Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN

Decadence Delivered

Living It Up at the St. Helena Farmer’s Market

Growing up in rural Central California I was taught to think of farmer’s markets as spots where top local produce could be scored for rock bottom prices, and the chance to mingle with talented local farmers and artisan craftsmen came in a close second in terms of reasons to go. Besides these perks, the fact that the markets usually took place in the sunny outdoors made them all that much more appealing to a kid hankering to spend time in the sun after a long week.  

A recent visit to the St. Helena Farmer’s Market in Napa Valley revealed that, although prices at this elite gathering of gourmet growers is certainly higher than any market I frequented as a child, the mingling aspect and general outdoor splendor are more rich than those at any market I can recall.

Superlative quality

While prices at the market, which takes place every Friday morning from May through October, are among the steepest you’ll see at an event of its kind, the superlative quality of the fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and baked goods is also–happily–way above par. This makes sense when you consider the provenance of the produce and other goods: Napa and the California wine country are among the top spots in the world for gourmet cuisine. 

On my visit I managed to leave the St. Helena Farmer’s Market without spending every last dollar in my wallet, but it was tough. Between the delicious gourmet foods, brilliantly-hued local produce, and gorgeous fresh flowers on display, I was hard pressed to be restrained. Ultimately, I decided to sample a few choice selections from each category and vow to return again soon to try some more. Returning to the market, after all, sounds like a dynamite idea to this grown-up with fond farmer’s market memories

Be sure to stop by and take in the gorgeous flowers for sale at the Devoto Gardens booth. The Sebastopol growers stock a stunning selection of brilliantly-hued blooms, from budget-friendly sunflowers on up to pricier items. I scored a bunch of long-lasting blooms for a reasonable $10 a bunch, one of my best scores of the day

When you’re ready for a break from browsing stop by the bocce ball court to take in locals engaged in animated matches of the super-social game. Shaded picnic tables afford ideal spots to take in matches, in which teams compete to toss balls as close as possible to a target ball, called a pallino. The entertaining outdoor game is quickly taking off in sunny Napa thanks in no small part to the area’s gorgeous year-round climate.

Italian food purveyor Mirella’s Panini and baked goods top the list of locals’ reasons to go to the market. I was seduced by one of her mini berry tarts, which I consider one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time. And if you’ve got a hankering for frommage, the wonderful artisanal cheeses available from Raymond & Co. Cheesemongers are absolutely heavenly. Happily, sampling is encouraged.

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