Every Rome neighborhood has its own mercato rione (neighborhood market), so there is no shortage of choice when it comes to shopping for fresh food in the city. But there is something particularly special about the Circo Massimo Farmer’s Market, which opens every weekend on a quiet street behind the Palatine Hill. Farmers from the Lazio countryside come here to sell their products, and you’ll get a chance to interact with the people who grew your food while tasting regional specialties!
Campagna Amica organizes weekly markets bringing farmers into the heart of the city to sell vegetables, fruits, meats, and other local food products. Unlike the other neighborhood markets, farmers at Campagna Amica sell their own products directly and are committed to biodiversity. Previously I’d interviewed Pietro to learn more about Campagna Amica’s “0 KM” philosophy, and today I’ll be introducing the very first Campagna Amica market in Rome, located at Circo Massimo. Whether you’re a visitor looking to grab a cheap and delicious lunch, or a home chef seeking hyperlocal ingredients, Circo Massimo has something for everyone!
The Circo Massimo market has a circular layout: there’s an outer ring of produce, meats, cheeses, and flower sellers, and the center is mainly prepared foods and food products like olive oils and wines. There are plenty of samples ranging from cheese to olive oils drizzled over fresh bread, and even a variety of spreads that make great souvenirs!
The entrance is marked by a large blackboard listing products on sale and the stand that sells the product at the cheapest price.
In the center plaza, there are often cooking demonstrations featuring seasonal specialties, where the chefs will explain each step of the process. Campagna Amica’s Facebook and Instagram accounts are well-maintained, so you can find what’s on the menu before you go.
If you’re only stopping by for a sampling of regional Lazio cuisine, you can stop by the kitchen and patio (on the left side of the circle as you enter).
Each week, Campagna Amica features a chef from a Lazio farm who creates a menu using seasonal produce and classic Italian flavors. There’s always antipasti, primo (usually a pasta dish), secondo (meat or protein), contorno (side dish), and dolci (dessert). Each dish ranges from 3 – 5 euros.
You order by going right up to the counter, because dishes are prepared fresh. You’ll be handed a receipt, and while you wait you can peek into the large window to see what the chefs are whipping up.
Today: gricia with artichokes, plus a refreshing salad!
The lunch options are a great way to sample the farmer’s market produce even if you are visiting Rome and don’t have access to your own kitchen to cook up all the ingredients in.
Fruits and Produce
Italy is still very much an agrarian country, and you’ll see that reflected in the diversity of their fruits and vegetables. We’re just nearing the end of citrus season, and about to welcome strawberries and melons for spring!
Depending on the stand, you can either fill up your own bag or they will fill it up for you (for hygiene reasons). Usually if there are bags lying out it’s a sign you can do it yourself, but otherwise simply let the farmers know the weight you would like to buy: if a kilo is too much, ask for several etto (100 grams each). Here’s more information about how to buy food at a traditional Italian market, if you have never shopped at one before.
For very busy stands, there might be a ticket system where numbers are served subsequently. If not, well sometimes you just have to fight for attention.
Cheeses and Meats
Since coming to Rome, I’ve come to really love a fresh slice of mozzarella, or a bite of primo sale cheese. Primo sale means first salt, and it’s a sheep cheese aged for about a month.
At Circo Massimo you can find all sorts of specialty cheeses, including goat-milk ricotta mixed with black truffle from Azienda Agricola Benaquista! The umami of the truffle with the milky ricotta is absolutely divine.
There’s all sorts of cured meats, sausages, and semi-prepared meat products for you to enjoy. You might find a pig’s head with a sandwich roll in its mouth–that’s porchetta, a whole pig that’s deboned and roasted with herbs. You can find porchetta being sold in sandwich shops around the city, but at Circo Massimo you’re buying directly from the producers. Enjoy it by the slice or in a sandwich.
During our interview, Pietro mentioned how important it is for Campagna Amica to build more indoor markets. Buildings are more comfortable, reliable, and convenient, which is good news for customers and farmers alike. This is especially true for easily spoiled foods like seafood. In this market, the easy access to running water and sanitation means that your seafood will be fresh, clean, and of course seasonal.
I’d never thought too deeply about the seasonality of local seafood, but thankfully the information desk has flyers teaching you which fish and produce are in season.
Bread and Food Products
Good olive oil should be consumed a year after it’s pressed, and here you can find olive oil that’s been made literally just days before. There’s also wine, vinegar, preserves, nuts, and nut butters.
Want some bread to go with your oils and cheeses? Pick up some crusty Italian breads and pizzas for a snack or a picnic-style meal! My favorite is pane lariano, a geographically protected bread from the commune of Lariano. It’s dark, made with semi-whole wheat flour, and cooked in a wood oven for a hard crust and soft interior. After a day or two the interior hardens up, transforming it into a great base for bruschetta.
Look for it at Renzo Abbafati’s stall in the center circle of the market. This is a family-run business to the core – they make the bread, but their father grows the wheat and their brother owns the mill which grinds it into flour!
After you’ve browsed through the stands and picked up plenty of food, step outside to enjoy the spring sunshine. Campagna Amica created the market to be a social hub, so you’ll see families and friends catching up over snacks and drinks. There are a couple of stands selling fried seafood, beer, juices, and gelato.
Food is an integral part of Italian culture, so there might be special displays for festivities. This past weekend, there was a parade of regional Carnevale desserts!
Campagna Amica Market (Farmer’s Market) at Circo Massimo
Via San Teodoro, 74,
Open: Saturdays and Sundays 8AM – 3PM. Closed weekdays for farmers to work the land!