As we sat down finally in the evening, each with a glass of wine or a beer, Benoit laughed at the silly, silent grins the three of us had let spread over our faces, our bodies propped up at the table in exhaustion. “We look like deflating balloons!” he said. “It is like our brains are bizzzzing about, releasing the bliss of this day!”
Anne, Benoit, and I had come straight from the Wintermarket, from the Saxelby Cheesmongers table where we’d sold regional cheeses, yogurt, butter, and grilled cheese-and-pickle sandwiches to an ongoing, enthusiastic crowd of customers from 11am to 4pm. Thanks to Professor Robert LaValva, the New Amsterdam Public, and to all who support this man and the vision of the organization he founded, the market was an outstanding success. It seemed a moment in history, an historical day, for all who were present.
The New Amsterdam Public is an organization with the mission of establishing the New Amsterdam Market, a year-round, indoor, public market where grocers, butchers, fish and cheese mongers and other purveyors would create and foster a regional, sustainable food system in the City of New York. Wintermarket was the first important step towards achieving this goal. The New Amsterdam Market would embrace not only the historical significance of the Seaport, but the historical meaning of a public market. The Seaport has been the site of public markets since 1624, spaces that celebrate the mutual depedence of city and region, and that exert strength, relevance, and vibrancy when they are established to serve the common good.If the success of Wintermarket is any sign of how beloved such a location would be to New York City, the one-day event assured we who were present that the New Amsterdam Market shall become a permanent reality.
Even in the cold rain, despite the markets’ location outside the gates of the New Market Building, the crowds came in droves. Our first customers had left New Jersey three cold hours earlier, to be at the market by 11am sharp. The chef of Jimmy’s No. 43 had cleaned out his bread supply by noon, and the Salvatore Ricotta from Brooklyn was sold out hardly an hour later. Salvatore’s wooden bowl of fresh-made cheese, drizzled with local honey, sat next to our table, and I snagged the last spoonful at 1pm, just in time. Mario Batali’s rolled porchetta, an entire pig, whole to the head, stretched beautifully across a board to the left of our cheeses, and was sliced for sandwiches till it too was gone, far before the market’s final hour. Other farmers, growers, breeders and foragers served tastings for free, and sold food for the cupboard and gifts for the holidays – meats from upstate New York, oysters of Long Island, apples from New Hampshire, eggs laid in New Jersey, hard cider from Ithaca, pickles made in Brooklyn, berries fresh from Vermont, cheeses from sheep, cow, and goat farmers as close as Poughkeepsie, honey from Amagansett, and ice cream made with regional ingredients, a crowdpleaser even in the cold. There were breads made by immigrant women in Queens, nuts foraged in Westchester, beans and oats from Brooktondale, New York. A few farmers even came down from Maine with freshly milled grains and cereals. Chefs from throughout the city served seafood chowders, pork stews, chilis, and toast with pate.
My job: was to grill the cheese-and-pickle sandwiches of Saxelby Cheesmongers. And I therefore tasted few of the goods at the market. We were kept so busy all day that my memory is primarily of expectant faces and outstretched hands, eyes looking hungrily at my makeshift panini grills. Two sets of two pans, each pressing down upon the sizzling sandwiches: Sullivan Street ciabatta, slices of Grafton Classic Cheddar from Vermont (until we sold out, and switched to the less-classic, Grayson), butter from Evan’s Farmhouse Creamery, and Rick’s Picks Bee ‘n’ Beez pickles. One elderly lady told me in excited expectation, “That’s exactly how I make mine at home! But I like to put a full teapot on top of the top pan, to really squash the sandwich down!” Another woman took one bite of her sandwich and melted in smiles, allowing that the grilled cheeses at Neal’s Yard in London were only nearly as good. There were only a few grumbles, claims of having been skipped in line, of having waited too long for a sandwich ordered. Overall, this was an incredibly enthusiastic, supportive crowd, together with overjoyed, proud purveyors, in a setting of almost boisterous, excited interaction. Our Saxelby stand gave endless tastings of yogurts, cheeses, and even butter, and sold our cheese-and-pickle sandwiches for $4.50 a piece – what more could one want in the winter? We sliced and chopped and spooned and grilled: Anne, Benoit, and I thawing our cold feet in a dance of height, haste, and heated excitement. It was a day that we were meant to end as deflated balloons, grinning in bliss.
We drank our wine in the evening with visions of the New Amsterdam Market and its genius potential: the ease of transportation to the seaport from all directions, the beautiful view of the bridge and the water, the abundant purveyors and products available. I imagined bikes piling in over the bridge from Brooklyn, Wall Street execs hurrying over from work, and the chefs calling out ‘cross the indoor space of the New Market Building, for more bread from the baker, more cheese from the monger, truffles from the forager, and honey from the rooftop beekeeper. New York has the food, and we have the people. Our region and city have a history of food production, commerce, and stewardship that we have so much to benefit from maintaining. The Wintermarket was only a seed, as they say, planted in dormant soil. Before long, to be sure, it will grow. And if this city has any idea what it needs, the New Amsterdam Market will open for all.