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[Photos: Brian Yarvin]

You might think that January in New Jersey isn't the time or place for a farmers market, and in a sense, you'd be right; nothing that New Jersey farms are famous for are in season now. But that doesn't mean that there's nothing from local farms. Meats and cheeses—in a sense, the traditional way of storing up seasonal foods for winter—are available, and honey is, too. Throw in a few artisan food producers, local greenhouse vegetables, fruit from storage, and a fishmonger, and you have a market.

It also helps that the market in question is in Stockton—a scenic town among scenic towns on the Delaware, a bit north of Lambertville and not far from Frenchtown. Surrounded by farms, weekend homes and affluent neighbors, the dream of a winter artisan food producers market seems to be taking hold.

1212010_stockton03.jpgWhen I asked Dawn, the market organizer (she didn't like being called "manager" but welcomed the title "czar") how she came to create it, she told me, "We need to be able to get everything all though the winter." So she approached the owner of the building (previously a non-chain supermarket but closed for seven years) and they recruited some vendors and opened up two months ago.

Vendors are top-notch, and from both sides of the Delaware. There's Bobolink Dairy, run by Jonathan White, one of the state's pioneer cheesemakers; they offer both their artisan cheeses and breads from their wood-fired oven. (Cheeses are $20-24 per pound. Breads in the $5-6 range.) The cheeses are just the sorts of cave-ripened varieties that people insist can't be made in New Jersey.

Metropolitan Seafood is an outpost of a fishmonger in Clinton. While they offer little in the way of Jersey-caught fish, they do travel to Hunts Point every day and bring in the sorts of fish that you're not supposed to find outside of Manhattan; sparkling fresh monkfish led a list of finfish fillets ($20-30 pound). They also smoke their own bluefish, oysters, and scallops. The smoked scallops are my vote for the finest artisan seafood product in the state.

New to me was Rise, a bread shop in Clinton. Since the Bakehouse in Columbia closed back in October, there's been a gaping hole in the artisan bread market and while their product is a bit different, the concept is the same: bread greatness. Loaves ($3-5) in both French and contemporary American styles are available.

Sometimes, the thought of purchasing something is almost as exciting as the reality, as with Purely Farm. Their free-range lamb and pork was appealing and available ($6-11/pound, double that for racks of lamb chops). But the notion that they—on rare and random occasions—have free-range mutton was so thrilling that I forgot about what they actually had. The thought of braised mutton, slow-cooked in red wine or in a curry, almost made me cry.

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In addition, Tassot Apiaries from Milford offered honey in a variety of forms and quantities. Iannelli's Bakery brought old-school Italian bread from Philly. (There are bakers in Hoboken and Bayonne that are just as good, but in Stockton, Philly is closer.) Highland Gourmet Market, a farm and artisan food store, offered their own meats and baked goods, and Milk House Farm manned a stand offering local produce from a variety of organic farms sourced by Mike Azzar—mknown to New Jersey locavores as "Mikey the organic guy."

If this were the middle of August and farm produce was thick on the ground, I'd be fussy about calling it a "farmers" market. After all, too many of the vendors aren't farmers. But in January, I just can't worry. As long as they bring together these remarkable food artisans in the dead of winter, they can call themselves anything they want.

Stockton Winter Farmers Market

19 Bridge Street, Stockton NJ 08559 (map)
609-610-3532

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