BOULDER, COLO.–The bustle at the season opening of the Boulder County Farmers Market on Saturday–not unlike Union Square Greenmarket in July–wasn’t surprising considering this college town has become a hot bed of local food startups, propelled by receptive farmers market shoppers, supportive grocers like Whole Foods Market and Alfalfa’s, and recent changes in Colorado law. The enthusiastic market crowd moved sluggishly at times and occasionally ground to a halt when someone bent down to pet a stranger’s dog. Dog appreciation is as big a apart of Boulder culture as jogging, happy hour and farmers market shopping.
Folks didn’t seem to mind the wait, because the goods were so good. The Front Range has sprouted an impressive array of small-batch food makers, many of which make their debut at the Boulder market. Alongside rawmilk cheese from Windsor Dairy and the tie-and-plaid-wearing staff of Isabelle Farm proferring the first cutting of asparagus and a rainbow of spring spinaches and chicories, were the creamy yogurt label Noosa Yoghurt pushing its seasonal rhubarb flavor, MM Local with its Colorado grown pickles and preserves, Zuke pickled veggies from Esoteric Food Company, and dumplings and sauce from Sisters Pantry: all brands now distributed at supermarkets and food shops in the region, not unlike Gotham farmers market favorites Rick’s Picks and Hot Bread Kitchen.
The jobs created by such small businesses were part of the thinking when, just a couple weeks ago, a bipartisan majority of the Colorado Senate passed the Local Foods, Local Jobs law, which eases regulations on small-scale food makers. More than thirty states now have such “cottage food” laws, recognizing that the customers for such products are likely to be nearby (and may know the producer personally), and that the scale of these operations aren’t completely fitting to the safety risks that are unique to larger, industrial operations.
Even on non-market days, Boulder is always a fun place to eat and drink. On Saturday night, after wading through the crowds of coeds back from spring break, we got seated at Jax’s Fish House and supped on heirloom lettuce and ricotta salata, Rocky Mountain steelhead trout, and pork-and-mushroom-tinged oysters Jax’s (sort of like clams Casino, but with oysters). We washed it down with a can from Upslope Brewing Company (a new discovery since our previous family trip to Boulder), and couldn’t stop thinking of the tin suds containers put out by Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint Ales. Earlier in the evening, we met friends for a birthday toast at Q’s at the Hotel Boulderado (the first of the Jax’s group of restaurants in town) where, feeling nostalglic we ordered a Manhattan with the apple whiskey from Denver-based Leopold Bros., the distillery that made us think of Tuthilltown in the Hudson Valley. To our surprise, the Leopold label had “New York Apple” printed on it. As the bartender explained, the distillery celebrates whiskey styles from around the country, including hooch flavored with Georgia peach and Rocky Mountain berries, and Empire State apples. The sentiment tasted just like home.