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UMF #7: Vom Fass

Urban Market Forage started the New Year with a visit to Vom Fass on University Avenue. Vom Fass, which is German for From the Cask, first opened in 1994 in Regensburg, Germany. In 2008, the first American Vom Fass opened right here in Madison. There are now about a dozen shops in the U.S. and about another 250 across the globe.

All the products come from small producers, many practicing organic agriculture and working exclusively with Vom Fass. The exact location/farm of every item in the store is noted on the product tag. Many items also have cooking and pairing suggestions.

For anyone who has more salads on their list of resolutions for 2013, you couldn’t ask for a better destination. We were treated to tastings of many, many delightful oils, ranging from olive to argan, pistachio to avocado, hazelnut to grapeseed.

The vinegars were also stellar. From brightly acidic wine vinegars to syrupy balsamic-style fruit vinegars that would be more at home on a dessert plate or in a cocktail. Shane, our staff guide was very knowledgeable about cooking and enjoyed the Slow Food gang’s eagerness to try as many different flavors as possible.

After all that oil and vinegar, we transitioned to the stronger stuff. First some red wines, both mellow and fruity. We tasted liqueurs, grappas, scotches, whiskies and brandies. We also got a lesson in the history of absinthe. Vom Fass stocks a very tasty version and sells a variety of pretty spoons for your sugar cube.

Go, taste, create.

UMF #6: A Visit to Fromagination

On December 2nd, 2012, UMF moved from ethnic market to specialty shop and visited the charming and very delicious Fromagination. Owner Ken Monteleone and our guide, cheese lover and Slow Food board member Alyssa Henry, treated us to a wonderful time honoring Wisconsin’s dairy industry.

Ken left the corporate world several years ago to follow his dream of providing full flavored, traditional, artisan foods to Madison. Despite opening in a recession, he created a store that Madison has enthusiastically embraced. Ecologically minded building materials, from slate floor tiles salvaged from a Chicago roof, to reclaimed timber beams, give the shop a warm, friendly glow.

Fromagination’s cheeses and their “perfect companions” showcase Wisconsin’s bounty, but also include the small, artisan traditions of other states and nations.

Ken offered the Slow Food participants several tastes, including a warm, runny, divine Rush Creek Reserve, the autumnal treat from Uplands Cheese Company. On top of this generosity, participants were also given a discount on their purchases. A happy and tasty and memorable outing.

UMF #5: Mercado Marimar with Leonardo Zalapa

On Saturday, November 10th, Urban Market Forage made its 5th foray to visit a local market. This time it was Mercado Marimar on S. Park Street. It may be a relatively small space, but it provides a big boon to lovers of Mexican cuisine.

Owner Maria Garcia has been in this location since 2000, but in the Mexican food business for much longer. She is one of Madison’s pioneers in the Latino market community. She arrived in the U.S. by herself at age 17 and has run many successful businesses since. Marimar is Maria’s name combined with that of her partner, Martín.

Our guide, Leonardo Zalapa, was charming and knowledgeable. He shared his favorite ingredients and recipes. The shelves are crammed with imported items. There is a butcher, a produce section and a tiny bulk section for staples like dried beans. If you go on the weekend, you will not escape the whining and groaning of the tortilla machine, which, by the time we were standing in front of it, was on siesta. We were able to see the masa dough inside and see (and taste!) the delicious results.

The small kitchen turns out delicious tacos, tamales, carnitas, pozole, etc. 6 of us stayed for an incredibly tasty carnitas lunch, served with a huge stack of fresh tortillas, limes, onion and cilantro. Red and green salsas, crema, and an avocado sauce dot every table. Maria also treated us to nopales salad on the house.

Lovely staff, wonderful food. A true Madison gem!

UMF #4: Yue Wah with Chef Paul Tseng

On October 6th, 2012, Urban Market Forage spent its 4th outing at Yue Wah on South Park Street. Leading us was Chef Paul Tseng of Willy Coop West. Many people are familiar with this huge store, which carries food items from all over East and South Asia as well as the Middle East and Mexico. Chef Tseng guided us through the items he was most familiar with from both his childhood in Taiwan and as a chef in the U.S. Participants had plenty of time to browse the aisles on their own and compare notes on foods they were already familiar with.

The produce and frozen food sections are among the best of Madison’s ethnic markets. There is definitely something for everyone.

We learned from the owner that the original store was about 1/5 the size and focused primarily on Chinese and Thai foods. When the current owners bought the space in the 1980s, they kept the name but slowly expanded both the size and the product lines.

It’s a great place to try a little something from various cultures. Prices are reasonable. Go home with the makings of a pan-Asian feast, some Middle Eastern sweets and some Mexican soaps and candles.

UMF #3: India House with Neeta Saluja

On Monday, September 10th, Urban Market Forage visited India House on Gammon Road. We were guided by Neeta Saluja, cooking teacher and author of the Six Spices cookbook, as well as the lovely husband and wife store owners, Prabakaran and Jansirani. If you want to discuss biochemistry with Prabakaran after shopping, that’s an option too. He arrived from Tamil Nadu in the early 1990s to complete a doctoral program at the UW.

As with Viet Hoa, our tour started in the rice aisle. We learned about regular and aged Basmati, about Sona Masosori, about long, medium and short grained rices, and the regions in India where you are most likely to find them. Then on to grain flours; large bags and small, for making chappati, roti and poori.

The shelves are lined with a dizzying array of jars and bags, boxes and packets. Relishes, chutneys, pickles. Spices and teas, snacks and sweets. Dried beans, peas, lentils, and their respective flours.

The produce section is cursory, consisting primarily of staples like garlic, onions, ginger and chilies.

Along the back wall, an enormous refrigerated section. Overwhelmed by all the choices on the shelf? Want an easier introduction to the seductive flavors of the Indian kitchen? Grab some frozen palak paneer, some naan, and some kulfi (ice cream) for dessert. A Bollywood movie perhaps? They stock videos too. The owners are extremely friendly and helpful, so don’t be shy about asking questions!

UMF#2: Fraboni’s Italian Specialties

On Saturday, August 4th, Urban Market Forage visited Fraboni’s Italian Specialties on Regent Street. Owner Steve Fraboni and guide Lisa Ferin were ready, willing, and able to discuss various aspects of Italian cuisine.

Steve Fraboni is the 3rd generation in the cooking/grocery business. His family ran a Madison restaurant and when their supplier was thinking of closing shop, the Fraboni family took over the business. They needed Italian products for their own business and then expanded rapidly to provide these items for a growing customer base. Steve is a natural storyteller. His childhood memories of hard work in the shop and kitchen were funny and touching. His passion for his work and the products he sells was evident.

Though a relatively small shop, Fraboni’s is packed with an enormous assortment of imported and specialty items. There are also prepared foods and a deli counter that does a very brisk business during lunch hour. The pasta aisle is particularly impressive. There was a long discussion of pasta shapes, the types of sauces to match those various shapes and the different manufacturing methods. Some of Italy’s best quality pastas are shaped using antique bronze molds. The rough surface this method produces allows sauce to adhere to the pasta. Italy has long been faithful to its regional specialties and certain pasta shapes, and sauces, are specific to particular parts of Italy.

We made only a cursory stop in the sweets section, but Lisa pulled one of her favorites, Panforte di Siena, from the shelf. This is a sweet dating back to medieval times. It is made with flour, honey, dried fruits and nuts. It is usually served on holidays and special occasions. Steve surprised us by opening the package and slicing it so we could all have a taste (or two). Being so dense, a little goes a long way.

Another impressive selection comes in the Olive Oil aisle. Fraboni’s carries a wonderful selection of not only Italian extra virgin olive oils, but also Greek, Spanish and Palestinian. We got to taste two of the Italian oils to get an idea of the different flavor profiles. That tasting was followed by a delightful, syrupy aged balsamic from Modena. Perfect for berries or ice cream, and the perfect way to bring our afternoon to a close.

Inaugural forage at Viet Hoa

The Urban Market Forage program got off to a great start on Tuesday, July 10th. Twelve people joined guide Jim Galvez and Viet Hoa owner Luke Le for a tour of the very large and incredibly stocked Viet Hoa market on Monona Drive.

First came the enormous bags of Jasmine rice. Then; banana flowers, various mint varieties, quail eggs, taro root, soft shell crab paste, pickled vegetables, crunchy canned crickets, whole frozen fish, durian ice cream, noodles of every shape and size, duck heads, chicken feet, coconut jam….the list goes on.

Our eyes were wide. Jim told us about his Filipino background and the items he grew up eating. Luke gave us a more comprehensive than expected explanation of practically every aisle and answered all our questions about how to cook with various ingredients. He talked about coming to the U.S. from Vietnam and his dream of opening a grocery store. Luke caters to many Asian families, but also to other neighbors in and around Monona and Madison. He stocks groceries primarily based on what his customers want, and well, his customers want quite the range of incredible foods. We were so grateful for their time and insights! After nearly 90 minutes, we grabbed baskets and sprinted around the store again to pick up items that had caught our eye and piqued our culinary interest.

By the end of all this, we were getting hungry! Five of us decided to continue the Vietnamese theme and head next door to the new Vietnamese restaurant, Kim’s Noodle.

At the restaurant, we tucked into spring rolls, banh mi, pho, bun, spicy salads, avocado smoothies and fresh coconut water. It was the perfect ending to an absolutely fascinating forage.