A win for wallets and taste buds

Indulge in the abundance of free samples at the Charlottesville City Market


At the Caromont Farm stand, I sampled farmstead chevre,  Esmontonian, and Piquillo Pepper Chevre.

Madison McNamee | Cavalier Daily

As a first-year college student, there are two essential things lacking in my life — quality food and money. My stomach craves a taste that cannot be satisfied by the elementary flavors of O-Hill, but unfortunately my bank account does not agree with my appetite. I often head to a dining hall and stack up plates of various options, hoping my odds of trying something decent will increase if I sample it all. However, this is quite wasteful, and I tend to wind up unsuccessful in my search for better-than-average food.

This is when the power of samples proves its strength. I have this theory that if I ever go completely broke, I could secretly move into a Harris Teeter and survive off of the plentiful cheese, deli meat, bread and fruit samples they constantly supply. But what’s even better than grocery store freebies? Fresh samples from the Charlottesville City Market.

I made it my mission to make a meal out of free samples. Of course, I purchased products as well in gratitude for the vendor’s generosity, so this meant I had to arrive at the market hungry enough for a free breakfast and leave with a purchased lunch.

Every decent meal starts with an appetizer — it’s like an exciting preview of the food of the food to come. A classic is cheese and crackers, which can be found at two vendors. I found a typical version of the beloved milky spread at Caromont Farm, where they sell Artisan Goat's Milk Cheese. I tried a traditional farmstead chevre, which had the appeal of fresh, tart goat cheese. I also sampled Esmontonian, which was aged for 60 days and had a slight maple note. The last was Piquillo Pepper Chevre, which put a peppery twist on traditional goat cheese. 

Caromont was exceptional for standard cheese and crackers, but for an alternative, head to Carousel Kitchen for flavor-packed cheese spreads, such as smoked salmon, smoked trout and smoked pimento. The smoked pimento stood out, as it was made with smoked gouda and fire roasted peppers. Both vendors left me incredibly satisfied, but my meal had just begun.

Any nutritionist will emphasize the importance of fruits and vegetables, and I was fortunate to find some at Ant on Cottage Creations, which specializes in reduced sugar jams and pickles. For a pickle fiend like me, this was a dream. I was able to sample pickled cauliflower and brussel sprouts, both of which were a remarkable combination of acidity and earthy tones from the veggies. They also have a new product, “Fire Stick Pickles,” or carrot sticks with Mexican seasonings, which include two habanero peppers, but I wasn’t brave enough to bear the heat.

I washed down the first portion of my meal with some kombucha from Mountain Culture Kombucha. Kombucha is a bubbly, fermented tea beverage known for its benefits from probiotics. Mountain Culture Kombucha is a local kombucha brewery handcrafted primarily in Virginia from pure mountain well-water, organic tea and raw sugar. The purely natural ingredients are appealing, and the taste doesn’t disappoint either. I sampled ginger and the blueberry lemongrass, both of which had flavor strong enough to overpower the typical bitter aroma of kombucha.

Every sufficient meal needs a source of protein. Oftentimes, this is meat, but not at Orange Dot Baking Company. 

Orange Dot Baking Company has eight different kinds of gluten free, “power packed” English muffins, which they call Major Muffins. Their flavors include Plain Delicious, Rustic Rosemary, Tasty Tuscan, Everything Better, Super-Seeded, Santa Fe Savory, Cinnamon Raisin and Chocolate Chip. Orange Dot provided samples for each flavor, and I was fortunate enough to try all them all. My favorite was the Rustic Rosemary, as it was a herby take on a basic English muffin. They also sell breakfast sandwiches on their muffins, which they craft right in front of you. For those with a sweet tooth, they also provided samples of “blonde brownies,” which were also gluten free and power packed, and I couldn’t get enough of them.

No meal is complete without dessert, which I was able to find a plentiful amount of at C-Ville Candy Company. They specialize in various brittles, chocolate barks and drops. My sugar addiction was fed here, as they provided samples for all of their goods — so of course, I had to try them all. My favorite was the “Bartender Bark,” a salty and sweet treat made with white chocolate, pretzel and fiery thai peanuts. For a more traditional bark, one should get the Dark Chocolate Almond Bark, which is freshly toasted almonds in smooth dark chocolate.

Samples are not only helpful in that they are free bits of food, but they also aid in deciding what I wil should actually purchase. I was so delighted by the welcoming vibe and abundance of samples and at Orange Dot Bakery that I was inclined to buy one of their delectable sandwiches for my lunch. I selected the “Green and Spring,” which is comprised of egg, roasted asparagus and herb cream cheese in between the super seeded muffin. For $7.50, this is a meal my wallet can make room to afford each weekend. This was by far the best lunch I’ve had in sometime. It was an ideal combination of earthy protein form the muffins, savory crunch from the asparagus and melty tang from the cream cheese all paired with a simple egg. 

At the Charlottesville City Market, it is possible to sample many options of complimentary food of higher quality than that of an ordinary grocery store. Doing so will lead to a satisfied stomach and bank account, along with the purchase of an enticing lunch for later — that is if you still want the vendors to continue to offer their hospitality.

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