While Hubby was working out of town this week, I spent some time reading from my new book, Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating by Ari Weinzweig. I am completely fascinated by cheese at the moment, and this book breaks down the ins and outs of all different types, how it is made, how to choose which cheeses to try, how to care for it, and of course- how to prepare a cheese course.
My mission: To prepare a "proper" cheese tray or two, and try lots of new cheeses in the process. Well, off to market I go! Grand Rapids Downtown Market, that is.
GR Downtown Market recently opened up in my hometown, and along with it came great anticipation for lots of great new foodie opportunities. (Side note: I sort of hate the word "foodie" but this is a situation where there doesn't seem to be another suitable term.) This place is a little slice of foodie heaven dropped down in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids.
Basically, it is a high-end gourmet market filled with numerous artisan vendors. You can find gourmet tea and spices at Spice Merchants, fresh flowers at Crescent Floral, fish and seafood at Fish Lads, imported and domestic cheeses and charcuterie at Apertivo, coffee beverages (or delicious Chai like I had) at Simpatico Coffee, and amazing artisan breads/croissants/wood-fired pizzas at Field & Fire Bakery (the butter croissant is spectacular), or MANY other wonderful gourmet/local foods and ingredients...and that's just indoors! There's an outdoor Farmer's Market on Thursdays (seasonal) and Saturdays (year-round) that has a great variety of fresh, local goodies also!
I started my visit with a chai and a butter croissant. Both were wonderful. The croissant from Field & Fire Bakery was by far the best croissant I've found in Grand Rapids, and I've had a lot of croissants. Now I just need to get back to practicing my croissants at home! (I also wish I could have shared one with Emilia from Emilia Lives Life ...she has a lovely blog, and she's always looking for a good croissant.)
Upstairs in the Market there is a lot of additional seating, a greenhouse (only half of the greenhouse is pictured), a banquet room, and demonstration kitchens where various cooking classes are offered. It was lovely and peaceful up there, with a nice view of the downstairs, and there is free Wi-Fi, so there were a few people getting some work done with a view of the greenhouse. Great spot. Also upstairs is their Administration office where you can find gift certificates that work anywhere in the entire market in $5 and $10 denominations. Many of the individual vendors also offer their own gift cards for use exclusively at their establishment.
For my cheese mission I visited with the very friendly fella with the great beard (his name escapes me) at Apertivo. He definitely knows his stuff! Thankfully I had been doing my research from my Zingerman's book and could halfway cobble my way through the conversation without being a complete disaster. I have a long way to go though! Armed with a few of the cheeses that were recommended in my book, and a couple of crisps and things to accompany our cheese course, I was all set. I will be trying out a tray of French cheeses, and also one with all Italian cheeses. I want to try things out a bit before our move to Italy in a month or two. If you're ever in town, check it out. Apertivo (The word apertivo is Italian for what we know in the U.S. as "happy hour") also has a wine bar where you can try various wines, local beers, and order up your own cheese samplers for a nice little cheese & wine-tasting date.
All in all, a very lovely morning spent at GR Downtown Market. Some things seem to be a bit pricey for some folks at first, but the variety and quality of the ingredients, and the incredible knowledge of the vendors make up for it. I'll definitely be going back soon, and having another one of those croissants!