Harvest Market of Stowe
● By John Gales
[In the Kitchen]
Harvest Market of Stowe
A little taste of Europe and a generous helping of Vermont
By Jennifer Duby
Photos courtesy of Harvest Market
Step up on the wooden decking of the porch at Harvest Market in Stowe, Vermont, and push through the front doors of this compact European-style grocery. Take a deep breath. The aroma that welcomes you is an intricate blend of smoked ham, rich coffee, and freshly baked breads. Racks of specialty foods line the wall to the right, and two square counters dominate the central space, one a charcuterie, the other an espresso bar. It’s like a slice of Europe—but with a hearty helping of Vermont.
How David Bests Goliath
“The essence of Harvest Market is European specialty food and quality combined with American convenience,” says General Manager Madeline Bertrand-Gerndt. But more than that, she adds, “We are a place that caters to local producers. We have local sugar, honey, and cheese makers.”
The emphasis is on quality and freshness, with Vermont food producers receiving significant representation on Harvest Market’s shelves and in its cold cases, and the store’s membership in the Vermont Fresh Network, a community of food producers and purveyors committed to using Vermont grown and raised foods, is a point of pride.
Madeline notes that, as larger grocery chains have integrated specialty products in their formats, it has become harder for smaller stores to remain competitive. So how does David beat Goliath? This store stays light on its toes and keeps changing and evolving with its customers’ needs and desires.
Trips to food shows in New York give Harvest Market the opportunity to offer European products not seen on New England grocery shelves. The Villa Manodori Aceto Balsamico di Modena, by renowned three-Michelin-star Italian chef Massimo Bottura, is not something shoppers are going to pick up at their local big-box supermarket. And while you can find a product labeled Prosciutto there, getting your hands on genuine Prosciutto di Parma is doable any day of the week at Harvest Market.
Legend holds that the bread offerings at Harvest Market came about when Gérard Rubaud, son of a bread baker in the French Alps (and former head of Rossignol USA), told founder Donna Carpenter that she should feature his bread. So she did, learning from Gérard the recipe and techniques required to create a true French bread.
But a lesser known chapter of the story is that when Madeline first took on the role of manager more than 20 years ago, Harvest Market had stopped baking bread. As a former clay artist, she took one look at the purpose-built brick beehive ovens and knew her first goal had to be to get those ovens back up and running.
In those early days, Harvest Market was able to produce 200 units a day; a unit is one loaf of bread or a single muffin, cookie, or scone. More than two decades later, the Mansfield Breadworks at Harvest Market creates produce not only for its own retail sales but also for dozens of wholesale accounts, amounting to over 1,000 units every day of the year!
Few customers can truly comprehend the degree of commitment required to produce this volume of hand-baked bread day in and day out. From feeding the starter to building up the fire to heat the beehive ovens, scraping out the ash and mopping the surfaces, mixing ingredients, proofing and rising the dough, and finally baking and cooling the products, making quality breads is a 24-hour-a-day marathon. Bakers and pastry chefs arrive to begin their workday at two or three in the morning.
In two decades of these ’round the clock efforts, manager Madeline can recall only one day when the bread didn’t get made. Vermont was hit with a Valentine’s Day snowstorm a decade ago that brought 30 inches and more to many parts of the state, along with driving winds that kept everyone but the plow guys home.
Everyone, that is, except Madeline, who shoveled her driveway multiple times in the dead of night to be able to venture out and check on the store. As the only grocery store open, she provided free coffee to the drivers who had been behind the wheel clearing roads for days.
Everything for a Special Meal
Harvest Market’s dedication to quality and freshness is evident in the ingredients they use. Everything is made from scratch. There are no premade doughs, toppings, or sauces. There’s even a grain mill where they crack their own wheat, rye, and spelt.
They are as committed to green practices as they are to freshness. They partner with Grow Compost of Vermont to divert food scraps from landfills to turn them into compost. In 2017, almost 30,000 pounds of food scraps were kept out of landfills. In addition, Harvest Market’s takeout containers and utensils are compostable. And hot on the heels of the recent disposable straw ban, they offer compostable straws and feature reusable glass straws for sale.
As the holidays approach, Harvest Market will be gearing up to be ready for their busiest season of the year. As purveyors of gourmet prepared food, the store is perfectly positioned to help customers celebrate by providing the fixings and sides that make a meal special—everything from soups and appetizers to vegetables, salads, and stuffing, and, of course, bread. Finish the feast with one of the freshly baked pies Harvest Market is famous for. All is perfection.
1031 Mountain Road