Scalloped Potatoes with Cheese

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The Saratoga Farmers’ Market has become known for diversity of products and surely one category with the variety to please every palate is the dairy section. Today the Market boasts products from all the major species: goat, cow and sheep. But it wasn’t always so.

Fifteen years ago, Liza Porter was already a vendor at the market, with her beautiful pressed flower cards and crafts. While at the Market she was also purchasing more and more food from other vendors.

Soon Liza and David ate their last bite of commercial, conventionally-grown pork. “It had no smell while it was cooking and no rich porky flavor. The texture felt like cardboard in the mouth,” Liza explained. “We wondered what had been done to the poor pig to completely eliminate all that deliciousness. We bought our first half-pig from Arnold Grant (M&A Farm) at the Farmers’ Market, and never looked back.”

They were living in Wilton at the time and soon were raising chickens on their lawn. “When we couldn’t get an exemption to have pigs in that rapidly-suburbanizing neighborhood, we knew we would eventually move.”

They tackled several things at once. The clincher was the fateful day that Liza went to a cheese making conference where she met a passionate cheese maker. She came home and described it all to David, and they agreed, “We could do that!”

David, with many skills acquired through over two decades of house painting, was ready to build the cheese factory, a tiny seven by fourteen feet space in their garage, which still met all the state’s strict health regulations. Liza, with an equal tenure as a physician assistant, already know how to keep things clean and how to work with microbes, in this case the beneficial microbes that turn simple the simple ingredients of milk and cream into sophisticated artisanal products like crème frâiche, quark, and yogurt, as well as cheeses like blue, parmesan and feta.

If having pigs in Wilton was out of the question, raising dairy cows there would have been totally impossible. They turned to a variety of colorful dairy farmers who were willing to sell them fluid milk. They were now in business with excellent cheeses and vigorous sales to enthusiastic customers, as the Saratoga Farmers’ Market’s first cheese vendor.

It nearly all came crashing down when their sole milk supplier pulled out, and they realized they needed their own farm. After searching for a year and looking at over fifty farms, they found their “dream-farm” in Argyle, Washington County, which meant it had mostly potential.

“It was abandoned, and no one else wanted it,” Liza said. At one time the farm belonged to an ancestor of another Saratoga Farmers’ Market family. Dave Randles’ great grandfather once lived there. Dave and Marge, who still live in Argyle, operate the Argyle Cheese Factory and are one of the now four cheese vendors at the Market…

The Porters named the new place Longview Farm for its westerly view across the Hudson Valley, actually back towards where they had lived in Wilton. “It’s a beautiful hill-side farm with overgrown, brushy pastures perfect as goat habitat. The house had to be completely redone but its bones were good.”

Even though there was no barn and no cheese house, they worked harder than ever and were ready to receive a herd of goats just in time for them all to celebrate Christmas in 2005. “Once we owned the goats,” Liza explained, “we could see we’d never know enough about cows to run our own cow dairy. Besides we’re surrounded by high-quality dairy farms in Argyle.”

They soon found a wonderful young couple with a small herd who agreed to supply the cows’ milk. With more time to make great cow and cheeses, they expanded their line to at least 15 cheeses plus yogurt.

“The goats are the humorous and spirited centerpiece of the farm. They make milk for cheese, and entertain the farmers. The farmers make the cheese, but there are gallons of whey left over.”

Pigs returned to the farm as the clean-up crew for the whey, turning it into delicious pork. Broiler chickens cycle through the goat pastures, eating worms, bugs and weed seeds, cleaning and improving the pastures while making meat for the farmers’ market.

The laying hens work together tending the lawn and close-in pastures, and lay perfect eggs. The annual round of new baby goats and the milk production has become deeply satisfying. The arrival of the piglets each spring has become a defining moment.

While the land feeds the animals and the poultry, and the farmers take care of them all, Liza sells the products at the Market. The income from those sales enables the Porters to renew the cycle each year.

Gradually new buildings have appeared, and Liza and David can see that the farm may become as handsome as it was when Dave Randles’ great-grandfather lived there.

The following recipe contains several products from the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, including two from Longview Farm.

Scalloped Potatoes with Cheese

(Serves 5 as an entrée, 10 as a side dish. Ingredients marked * are available now at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market.)
Ingredients

4 lbs potatoes sliced about 1/4″ thick *

2 storage-type onions, finely diced *

1 lb. Longview Farm High Rock Cheese, coarsely shredded *
½ lb. Longview Farm ham, finely diced *

1 qt. 2% milk from Battenkill Valley Creamery *

4 tbsp. all-purpose flour

4 tbsp. salted butter

Salt and pepper

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Melt the butter in a heavy pot, over medium high heat. Sauté onions for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour over onions and stir to make a roux, cooking until raw flour-smell goes away.

Add 1 cup of milk and stir until smooth, then slowly add the rest of the milk and stir until it comes to a simmer and thickens a little. Off heat, gently stir in the cheese until it melts.

Put a layer of potatoes in a 10 x 14 inch roasting pan. Spoon cheese sauce over potatoes and sprinkle with finely diced ham. Layer in the rest of the potatoes. Shake the pan so the top layer is fairly flat. Pour the rest of the sauce over the top and spread it around so there is sauce over all the top potatoes. Grind on pepper and salt lightly.

Bake at 375°F for about an hour. Check to see if top is brown and center is bubbly. If not, cook a little longer.