In the first of a new series, Hayley McLarin visits all the glorious weekend markets around Auckland. This week: Clevedon.
It was a jar of the softest, creamiest cheese languishing in olive oil and thyme that sent me on a 40km journey to what was feeling like the middle of nowhere.
You know you've ventured off the beaten track when you count more dead possums than orange cones on SH1, and I was beginning to wonder whether it really was worth the Sunday drive in drizzly rain to buy a jar of cheese, even if it was award-winning.
Clevedon Buffalo cheese was the brainchild of Richard Dorresteyn, whose wife, Helen, was struggling to find a local cheesemaker for her Clevedon Village Farmers' Market. They couldn't find one, so they created one.
In its short lifetime, Clevedon Buffalo has won a raft of awards for its cheeses and yoghurts - but it is as understated as its stall, nestled in the back corner of this A&P hall. The company could forgo the local market and put all its energy into being in supermarkets throughout the country. It's that good.
But the Dorresteyns purposely stay as local as they can. Helen, a volunteer firefighter, hand-picks and vets every stallholder at the Clevedon Village Farmers Market. It has been her baby since launch in 2005 and they're like family, stallholders commit to being there long-term, seasonality dependent.
Bestowed the 2018 People's Choice Outstanding Farmers' Market, Clevedon Village is intended to be a one-stop for almost everything you need for the week. Helen wants to appeal to people who care about food, rather than those wanting a day out. And hundreds visit every Sunday.
She recommends letting your purchases drive your meals, rather than a shopping list. Take a reusable bag, or buy a string one at the market (it's plastic bag-free), and buy what's in season. You won't go hungry.
BAG A BARGAIN: What I saved on provisions for the week almost covered my petrol bill.
Wholly Cow brings fresh beef and lamb from Cambridge; Harmony Meats offers an equally impressive range; local stallholders provide whitebait, oysters, smoked salmon and even quails' eggs. When I went, there were trailer-loads of recently cropped golden kumara, and herbs looking far healthier than they do in a supermarket pre-packaged bag.
Eating with friends mid-week, we savoured Kohkoz Smoky Baba Ghanoush, smoked salmon, organic avocado and kumara fries. (No, they didn't get any of the marinated cheese, I hid the jar in the back of my fridge.)
SWEET OR SAVOURY:
Juxtapose the dainty, delicate finery of a Little French Pastry treat by plonking yourself on a hay bale with a cup of Eighthirty roasters coffee. Or just linger by the pastry stall and let that accent take you to a small corner of France.
(Purely for research purposes, I was keen to try one of Bloom's New York cheesecake pretzels but the $5 morsels were all gone by 10am.)
BEST HANGOVER CURE: A delicious authentic wood-fired margherita pizza with prosciutto is made to order and will set you back $20. If you need to eat now, Sarah's Cornish pasties are as true to the British version that you will get, Angus beef and cubed potato in a warm crumbly pastry. (My wee cousin devoured a Hungarian venison hotdog almost as big as he was and declared it the best he'd ever had; his brother thought the Clevedon Cuisine bacon and egg bun was better; their mum said the Akemi Goya dumplings were "amazing".)
BEST COFFEE: There's one stall, serving Eighthirty roasters. It can mean a queue.
SURPRISE FACTOR: The Black Robin knife and tool sharpener. Take your knives so you can practise your chef skills later.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Only for the brave. It's truly rural so you really need to drive.
CHILD FRIENDLY: Absolutely, and on a fine day there are farm animals to pet. Brothers 10 and 6 were in no hurry to go home.
Available for a small charge, although some of the stalls also carry Eftpos.
DOGS: Welcome - but as the signs say, keep them in check, noses in the fresh food isn't appealing. Be like the miniature poodle who took the pose of a paperweight on Miss Maggie's doggy treats stall.
WET WEATHER OPTIONS: The public areas are exposed, but each stallholder is under cover. Get up close and personal with them, get to know their produce and stay dry.
MAKE A DAY OF IT: You're only 15 minutes from the Botanical Gardens in Manurewa, or 20 minutes from Maraetai Beach, so pack a picnic blanket and seek out some lunch treats.
VERDICT: Clevedon Village Farmers' Market delivers old-fashioned food values - you can chat to the producers, and truly acquaint yourself with the food you eat, rather than hope your local supermarket hasn't had everything stored in a chiller for weeks.
Clevedon Village farmers' market Sundays, 8.30am-noon