Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Vignettes from the Crete European Market

This was in the Southtown Star on Sunday:

From cheese to turkeys, it's all happening at the European Market
July 10, 2008 Recommend
By Paul Eisenberg, CORRESPONDENT
Ron Davis is an early riser, so he gets the job of making sure the Crete European Market gets off to a good start.
He gets to the parking lot at the corner of Main and Exchange streets at 5:30 a.m. each Saturday to make sure the lot is cleared of vehicles. Usually, he said, there are a couple of them there, often from patrons of the bowling alley or tavern across the street who decided to catch a ride home with someone else, rather than risk driving drunk.
Often, Davis and the police department are able to contact the car owners, who come and retrieve their cars. But sometimes they're unable to roust the vehicle owners, and then they have to call out the tow trucks.
On one occasion, after a "Girls Gone Wild" bus had made a stopover at the bowling alley, they had to tow seven or eight cars away so the market could proceed, but that's not a common occurrence, Davis said.
He said he typically stays at the market until about 9 a.m. or so, to make sure things are going smoothly, and then returns after 11 a.m. to supervise the takedown of the market, which ends at 1 p.m.
Reluctant to leave
Matt and Sheila Wegrzyn brought their family to the Crete European Market June 21 shortly before it closed. While Matt checked out some hot dogs, his two kids made a beeline for the inflated jumpy castle.
Unfortunately, it was time to take the castle down, and, as a worker waited, a member of Crete's Chamber of Commerce, the organization that runs the market, said it was time to get the kids out. One child obeyed, the other, a 2-year-old boy, retreated to the far corner with a defiant look in his eye.
"Looks like Sheila's going to have to go in after him," Matt said as the chamber representitive grew more antsy. But Sheila was busy talking to a vendor, so Matt removed his shoes and jumped into the castle to retrieve his son.--A lunch of hot dogs followed for the reunited family.
Using only the summer milk
When is a cheese just a cheese? Retired truck driver Gary Harrison, of Monee, has the answer.
Now working for Stampers Cheese Company, of Chicago, Harrison can be found most Saturday mornings at the Crete European Market, on the corner of Main and Exchange streets. Those mornings, he gets dropped off with a tent, a freezer, tables and lots of cheese, some coming from as far away as France, Spain and England.
He's got 8-year-old Cheddar and triple cream brie, sweet nut Swiss and pistachio cheese logs.
But his most expensive cheese doesn't cross any ocean. It doesn't even fall into any category other than "cheese." Called "Prairie Ridge Reserve," the cheese is made in Dodgeville, Wis., by a dairy farmer "who uses only the summer milk," Harrison said. "He sells the winter milk to other cheese makers."
The unpasteurized cheese, made in the old European style, sells for $25 per pound.--
Harrison is one of the more popular vendors at the outdoor event. His popularity can be summed up with two words: free cheese. Always willing to hand out samples, he said some people sample nearly his entire stock and purchase nothing, while others sample one or two and end up buying a chunk of one of the sampled varieties.
Harrison, who works by himself, has had to develop an unusual skill in order to satisfy his customers as well as hygienic standards. His right hand is gloved, while his left is bare. The gloved hand handles the cheese, and the other handles the knife and the money.
He pointed with his gloved hand to his right ear.
"It's rough," he said. "If I have to itch this ear, I have to use my other hand. It's hard to get used to."--
Never too early?
It's never too early to start shopping for that Thanksgiving turkey. In mid-June, Andrea Hetzel stopped by the Crete European Market and ended up doing just that at the booth occupied by Nature's Choice Farm, staffed that day by Samantha Sexton.
Selling "pasture raised chickens, eggs and turkeys" and "grass-fed beef," Sexton also was offering bratwurst that day.
But Hetzel, who in addition to putting in her turkey order also bought a chopped fryer chicken, was more concerned with the how the animals lived than how they would taste. After relating a story about seeing a live cow hoisted by one leg on its way to the slaughterhouse, as well as alluding to another tale regarding the botched beheading of a chicken, she told Sexton, "I like buying from you since I know they didn't suffer."--
Good return business
Samantha Sexton, of Grant Park-based Nature's Choice Farm, made a hamburger sound healthy.
What's in the meat, she said on a recent Saturday at the Crete European Market, makes all the difference. And the best way to control what's in the meat is to control what the cows eat.
Her cows eat grass, unlike those fed on grains and commercial feed. And her cows don't get fed hormones or antibiotics.
The end result is beef that is leaner and higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, a natural occurring chemical that's good for you.
Plus, besides the good feeling one can get by knowing the cow one is eating lived a more natural life than one from assembly line mass production meat available at most supermarkets, the meat tastes better.
"We get a lot of returning customers," Sexton said. "People tell me they can't go back (to store-bought meat)."
The Crete European Market takes place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, through Oct. 4, at the northeast corner of Main and Exchange streets.

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