What We Buy & Where We Buy It (Got Suggestions for Us?!)

In a recent post, I wrote about our decision to buy local over organic when we have to choose. That reminded me that I'd been thinking about writing this post for quite a while.

As a result of helping run a local meat CSA, we get a fair amount of questions about where we buy different items and ingredients. Plus, Sarah is an awesome cook (and I dabble a bit myself), so keeping her with plenty of supplies is always the way to go. We have spent a fair amount of time looking for the best quality/taste, price, and source (ideally local and organic), so we enjoy sharing this information. This post is an attempt to share what we buy and where we buy it - it's split into 4 sections if you want to scroll down below: produce, meat, dairy, and other. If you have thoughts on ingredients or options we should consider, we'd love to hear from you in the comments or via email! I should say from the top that we do our best to buy local and organic products and recognize that this is not a choice available to everyone because of the cost involved. At the same time, we've been surprised how many items that we believe are more sustainable and responsible choices can be purchased at the same, or even less, cost with a bit of searching. So, here you have it...

Produce - Sarah is growing us an amazing garden for the 2nd year at our place in Northside, so we get a number of veggies straight from the ground. But, here's our order of preference from there:
  1. Findlay Market - We usually have more time on the weekends, plus we can get far more than just produce, making it a great one stop shop. We usually make a list of what we need and then choose the spot that has the freshest, best looking options - almost always from the local area under the roof on the north side of the market. Over time you learn who specializes in what, and often get into a bit of a pattern. Findlay is also great for items that haven't quite hit yet in the garden, like tomatoes that were started in a green house or other choices that other simply got in the ground first. We've also gotten into the habit of going to Madison's Markets (since they stock Snowville's milk - see below) and often buy things there when we can't find a local option on produce. We do also go to the Northside Farmer's Market occasionally, although it seems that our weeknights are so frequently filled that we don't go there as much as you think we would.
  2. Picnic and Pantry - This is a new addition to our shopping routine, as it just opened. With it being so close to our house, and stocking a lot of local products, we are really hoping to see it succeed. So, we've decided to spend a good chunk of our produce dollars at P&P. They're open later than the farmer's market, and every day, so they're more convenient too.
  3. Trader Joe's - As we wade into the murky chain store waters, TJ's has definitely risen to the top of the list for us. It may be owned by Germans, but when local options don't exist, TJ's often comes through with a plethora of organic options at reasonable prices. We buy a lot of our fruit here when we can't get it anywhere locally (either because they're not in season - apples, or not available - oranges).
  4. Kroger - We got hooked on the Hyde Park store back before we were consciously seeking local products first. It's a solid store, and the produce section has grown substantially. They also have some local options now too. We often end up with a small list of items we can't find for some reason or another and then buy a thing or two at Kroger while we're there. Organic cilantro is also an ingredient that Kroger always seems to have and we often buy when we don't have a local choice.
  5. Jungle Jim's - Every once and a while we'll need some "exotic" produce that nobody else has, in which case we'll usually end up taking a trip to Jungle Jim's. It's more of a destination than a regular stopping place, but boy is it a good destination.
This is all, of course, based on a summer routine. Once winter hits, we get more produce from the retailers who ship in from afar, and less locally.  By freezing (we didn't particularly care for canning), we'll make some things last until next year.  We didn't do it last year, but we're thinking that at the end of the growing season when there are farmers with loads of one thing, we'll buy a whole lot for cheap and then preserve.

Meat - We get a large portion of our meat from the Eaton Farm because of the aforementioned local meat CSA called the Good Eaton Club. But here it is, one by one, our meat sources:
  1. Beef - We get most all of our cuts of beef from the Eaton's, but in the event that we want something else, we have frequented Busch's Country Corner at Findlay Market - especially for New York strip steaks. They've often got Ohio-raised beef, and since we're at Findlay a lot, we've found it is a fine place to stop.
  2. Chicken - The Eaton's are our main source, but the one thing we like to get independently that they don't do is chicken wings. The last several times we've gotten our wings, they were Amish-grown chickens from Luken's Fish, Poultry, and Seafood. I seem to remember them telling me the Amish farm is in Ohio, but I could be wrong. If we're in a pinch for a whole bird, or for cut up breasts, Busch's Country Corner also has Amish birds, and they are kind enough to de-bone the breasts (which is pretty cool to watch as well).
  3. Pork - Again, most of our pork comes from the Eaton's, but the one other item that we buy frequently is bacon. Kroeger and Sons Meats at Findlay Market has become our go to option for their nitrate-free thin-sliced bacon from pigs in Indiana. We've also certainly had Kroeger's sausages plenty of times (but we'd love other suggestions for places to get good sausages around town too!).
  4. Lamb - We don't eat a lot of lamb, and our freezer was stocked for quite a while after we got half of one (or was it half of a half?) from Doug Weber at Mud Foot Farm in Amelia, a connection through friends here in town. I am a bit sheepish to admit, but I am still coming around to the taste of lamb - it is just a bit gamey for me. I have found the New Zealand lamb from Kroeger & Sons Meats to be more mild, so when we make our favorite kabob recipe, we often opt for a pound of the ground lamb from here.
  5. Seafood/Fish - Because of all the meat we get through the CSA, it doesn't seem like we go for seafood or fish too often these days. Trader Joe's has a number of good frozen fish options that have been a consistent choice, and we've bought our lobster from Luken's at Findlay. I feel pretty ignorant still in this area, so want to do more research to find out about what the best choices are for a land-locked Ohioan when it comes to seafood and fish. I bought a book called Sustainable Sushi recently, and printed out a pocket guide with a similar purpose, to start paying closer attention while eating out, but I'd also like to figure out how to shop for shrimp (which we've mainly bought at Kroger, honestly), and salmon (it's my understanding that wild Alaskan is best, and farmed is to be avoided at all costs) - our most frequently purchased items in this category. Also, as we get more into sushi, I'd like to find out where the best spot is for sushi grade fish for home cooking.
  6. Other - I recently found veal bones from Eckerlin Meats, we've gotten duck from Heist Fish and Poultry (although the next time we buy a duck, we'll find a local source - anybody know a good one?), and that's about all the meats I can think of that we've purchased any time recently (no rabbit, although I want to soon, etc.).  The last thing I'll add here is that we'd love to find locally raised and processed lunch meat.  We've heard you can get ham at the Northside Farmer's Market, but we don't really eat sliced ham.  I'd love to find sliced turkey, corned beef, and salami in particular.  I know, I know - I can just make my own.  But if we all follow that logic to its conclusion, we'd all be farmers!
All of that said, we are still looking for a favorite butcher! Any suggestions would be greatly, greatly appreciated. There are so many cookbook recipes, especially old editions or ones written by foreigners, where they tell you to "ask your butcher" or "have your butcher" do this or that. We've tried a whole lot of places and have found that consistently either the people working at the meat counter aren't that knowledgeable, or more often, they aren't very nice about answering questions or helping out. We'd love to find a person who we could trust to be honest about the source of their meat, and also who can tell us about different cuts, their uses, and then be willing to do any of the work that they are more equipped to do before we take our order home. All of this also goes for a good fishmonger too - we don't buy fish as much as I think we'd like to, in large part because we haven't found the right place.

Dairy - Here's what we get and where we get it:
  • Milk - We have been buying Snowville Creamery for a while now (which is also the milk used in the now famous Jeni's Ice Creams), and we almost always buy it from Madison's Markets.  In a pinch, we do stop through the Whole Foods in Hyde Park too.  Recently, Madison's also started carrying Traders Point Creamery milk, which raised some questions for us that are still unanswered.  See that story just below in yogurt.  Finally, our trip to a farm recently got us thinking about true school, old school milk - straight from a cow.  Imagine that!
  • Cheese - I've been looking for a while for a good "every day cheese" that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.  Before the local/organic switch, we'd get the bags of shredded cheddar cheese from Kroger that are dirt cheap.  We like a $15-20/lb. cheese for a special occasion every now and then, but when it comes to throwing something on a burrito or sandwich, it's nice to have something less expensive.  We've generally settled on Gibb's Cheese and Sausage at Findlay Market - they have an Amish mild cheddar that isn't my favorite, but they'll shred it when you order more than a pound and it's definitely affordable.  Avril-Bleh & Sons Meat Market on Court Street downtown is another option that has some Amish choices, but its not as convenient as Gibb's.  Both places have been inconsistent with their answers about where things come from and whats in them though, so if you have a line on some affordable cheddar/jack/straightforward cheese that tastes pretty good, please do share.
  • Yogurt - This is a staple for us, and we most commonly get ours from Trader Joe's (I like vanilla low fat, Sarah gets plain).  It's organic and at under $3 has been hard to beat.  Then we met Craig Sanders from Traders Point Creamery - he was handing out samples of grass-fed, organic yogurt from their dairy in Indiana.  It was very good, but also very expensive.  We emailed back and forth a couple times (and I think another post with more depth is still needed), and he was generous enough to share this piece from Chicago blogger Grant Kessler at myfoodshed.com.  The writer explores the cost of a few different kinds of milk, all of which are somewhere along the spectrum of being sustainable/organic.  Traders Point is the most expensive option, but it raises a great question about what you are willing to spend for something.  It's pretty well documented how little we pay for food compared to our parent and grandparents, so a big part of the process of being conscious about what you are buying and eating is recognizing that we are not paying the true cost of cheap food.  But since I'm not advocating getting ripped off on the other end either, Sarah and I have had an ongoing conversation about how much is too much, and where are we willing to spend more.  When it comes to yogurt, we went back to TJ's for the time being, but that may change.  After a recent conversation in the comment section about the cost of Jeni's ice cream, I bit the bullet and bought (what may have been my favorite ice cream ever - Mackenzie Creamery Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Cherries) a pint recently.  It is funny how we're willing to pay more for some things and recognize the differentiation from one to the next (not just with food, of course, but lots of products), but not with others.
  • Eggs - Our eggs come from the Eaton's, but if we run out we'll stop at a farmers' market, Picnic and Pantry, or in an act of desperation, Kroger or Whole Foods.
  • Other - We'd love to find a good source for local butter! We churned some recently and it was the best butter I've ever had. I'd love to replicate that consistently at our house.
Other - There are a bunch of other items that we buy regularly or semi-regularly (if that's a time period).  Here are some of those others:
  • Herbs - many come from Sarah's garden, but when that's not possible, we always go to the great folks at Herbs & Spice & Everything Nice.  They have a host of conventional and organic options and you can get as much or as little as you like.
  • Baking Ingredients and General Foodstuffs - We have a stock of flour left from Tim King in my hometown of Bluffton, Ohio.  And when that's gone, I know we have a line on some options from Carriage House Farms.  Because that takes a bit of work though, we have leaned on Hyde Park Kroger's organic section, and this has been something that has also taken us to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.  Whole Foods is sort of our last resort, and is where we have found things like organic pickles, condiments, broths and various pantry items that we haven't found in other spots.  Oh, and we've been getting our extra firm organic tofu from TJ's (we've found that if you freeze it and then thaw it, it becomes more porous and then crisps up more easily and sucks in flavors as well).
  • Ethnic foods - I could go on and on about this section, but I'll keep it short.  Here are our commonly visited stores and what we get there (in no particular order):
  1. Saigon Market at Findlay Market - Because we're at Findlay so frequently, this is a go to spot for a number of staples - sesame and peanut oil, sriracha, bean sprouts, etc.  It's sort of a catch all, but is best for Chinese food ingredients.  We pick up most of our noodles for Thai and Vietnamese food here too.
  2. CAM - We've been going here now for some of those items I just mentioned from Saigon.  It's so large that you can get items here for a wide variety of Asian cuisines.  They've got loads of choices for things that there are only one of at other places - dumplings or steamed buns or rice for instance.
  3. Jungle Jim's - I mentioned their produce above, but one of the coolest parts of JJ's is that they have rows and rows of ethnic food options.  Chances are, if there is an ingredient you simply can't find anywhere else, you should check at JJ's.  We go out every few months with a list we've been keeping and knock it out.
  4. Dean's Mediterranean Imports at Findlay Market- This is where we come for falafel, a variety of different cous cous options, Greek yogurt, more olive (and other) oil options, and more.  It's also where we duck in to grab a samosa or empanada when we're hungry pre/during shopping.
  5. Ottugi Foodmart - Just outside of Findlay, on the corner of Central Parkway and Findlay, is this Korean Market.  It's where we've bought our soba and udon noodles and a handful of spices and sauces we couldn't find otherwise.  We don't come here as often, but it's worth having on the radar.
  6. Francis International Market - I've only been here once, as it was just introduced to me as "the Filipino store in Northside" - to which I responded "we have a Filipino store in Northside?!"  The signage is darn near non-existent, and I have no idea if it is actually a Filipino-owned/themed store, but it certainly does exist.  Plus, they said they're open until 9pm during the week, so we may never have to be more than 2 minutes away from an emergency jicama or other random ingredient to finish off one of the recipes we're trying out.
A large number of these choices are based on the fact that we've found what we think is the best price/quality ratio. We also factor in the ease of not just access, but consistent access (i.e. if we lived by Jungle Jim's, I'm sure we'd do more shopping there), and sometimes even order online when we've been told to be excited about a product and we trust the source.

If you'd like to do some of your own research, we'd highly recommend the CinciLocavore list on Yahoo, which has an awesome database that you can access after you become a member of the group.  For the DIYer, this is a great place to find out about different local producers and what they offer. The challenge then becomes contacting people or finding retail outlets, then deciding based on quality and other factors (like how easy the product was to get). Realistically, this can be a tedious process, and is something that most people won't do. We've also experienced the sad but true reality of some producers not being honest all the time, or simply being difficult to deal with (as with many vendors, like the butchers I noted above).

So, is there a spot we just have to know about?  An ingredient you've been searching for and cannot find?  A person or place that makes doing your shopping that much more enjoyable that you'd like to share?  Share or ask - we love these sorts of things!


intuitive eggplant said...

Great post! To add just a couple suggestions, I know you said that weeknight farmers markets don't always fit your schedule, but I think the new one in Madeira (Thursdays) has a high proportion of local meat vendors for the size of the market. Pretty sure I saw local eggs there too.

As for fishmongers, two I would recommend as honest, reliable, and upfront about where their stuff comes from are Keegan's in Anderson/Mt. Washington and Lobsta Bakes of Maine in Newtown. Both fly in a lot of what they sell (after all, most of it is fish and shellfish not local to this area), but they're both very knowledgeable and concerned about the quality of what they offer. Lobsta Bakes also makes and smokes its own seafood sausage and sells its own seafood and lobster stock. On Fridays, Keegan's has a tent out front run by a local couple who grow their own produce. Once when I went to Keegan's for fish trimmings to make my own stock, the owner sent me back to his kitchen and let me pick out some salmon heads, tails, etc. from his own stash. Both are small local businesses I am happy to support.

Mud Foot Farm said...

Hi Gavin, Mud Foot Farm will have duck available in late August, or early September. We have a limited supply so please let me know if you are interested. Doug

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Hey Doug - yeah, you could mark us down for a duck, thanks!

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

intuitive eggplant - thanks a lot for the fishmonger suggestions, and glad you like the post! We'll definitely check those out. It'd be great to have an option closer to the city for us, but right now we'll take what we can get! And we'll have to check out the Madeira market someday...

Jen said...

I recently moved to western Mason and went to the West Chester Farmer's Market. I was really happy to find Blue Jacket Dairy (from North of Dayton) there and Dale Filburn from Morning Sun Farms. I have links to both websites in my blog or you can just google. I'm not sure what you mean by everyday cheese? But Blue Jacket has a great selection, and I thought they were fair prices (around $5/block based on weight). I got organic, free range chicken and eggs from Morning sun and I thought the quality was excellent. I'm thinking both of these vendors probably also go to Findlay, but I don't know for sure. Thanks for the tips. We are investing in a cow with some of my family and I have my deep freeze all ready for it!

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Thanks for the comment, Jen! I'll definitely have to check out your blog soon.

We like Blue Jacket Dairy cheeses a lot too. What I meant by "every day cheese" is something that is not so expensive and can be used for quick sandwiches, quesadillas, that sort of thing. Most of those BJD packages are $5, making the price per pound probably around $15. In many cases, I'm happy to pay that. But, it'd be nice to find a good, simple cheddar for less, for instance.

We're pretty set on chicken and eggs, but thanks for the tip. And it sounds like you're about to be all set with that cow - awesome!