My custom pizza from 9 Miles East Farm with arugula, sausage and extra tomato sauce and cheese
I first tasted pizza from Nine Miles East Farm of Schuylerville, NY (which is 9 miles east of Saratoga where I live) at the home of a health-conscious friend. She raved about its natural goodness and how the two-day fermentation of its dough made it acceptable even for some people with gluten sensitivity.*
I didn’t like it. The pizza was just too dry, the crumb too dense, like a virtuous hunk of whole grain bread.
Arugula for tonight’s pizza
I soon met 9 Miles East’s proprietor, Gordon Sacks, and he informed me that the dough was made with high extraction flour from New York miller Farmer Ground—not 100% whole wheat, but close. Would he consider offering the option of a white flour crust? “Not gonna happen. There are plenty of places you can get a white flour pizza.”
Gordon Sacks in his basil patch
But he continued to tinker with the dough, and it’s now close to 25% white flour plus an undisclosed amount of spelt to soften the high-x. The bread is kneaded with an Italian fork mixer which (unlike the planetary mixers used by most bakeries) does not raise the dough temperature to insure a slow, even fermentation. The white flour is Victoria from La Meunerie Milanaise in Quebec, a stone-ground organic product milled to French specifications with a lower protein content than its American equivalents.
Pizza prep station; the fork mixer is at upper left
With these modifications the dough is still a sturdy platform, but light enough to be pleasantly chewy with even a bubble or two. And I’ve also discovered that, though the pizzas are intentionally made with smaller than typical amounts of their (excellent) tomato sauce and cheese, the kitchen has no problem adding extra on request. (A bonus as I was writing this: I happened upon a slice of week-old pizza which had been carefully wrapped and placed in the vegetable bin of my fridge. Unlike regular stale pizza, it had not turned to cardboard. If anything, it was better than when fresh-baked, like a loaf of high-protein rye or a miche that benefits from a couple days of aging.)
With those modifications, I’m now a fan. And a good thing too, because everything else about 9 Miles East seems like a prototype of a successful farm-to-table operation. Their brightly painted delivery trucks are visible all over Saratoga, making deliveries to Skidmore College and other central locations. And it turns out the pizzas, though the most visible aspect of Gordon’s operation, are actually a Trojan horse.
The kitchen’s stated capacity is 20 pizzas a night and the most they’ve ever turned out is 30, hardly enough to support a staff of several people. Gordon’s real purpose is to convert you to prepared meals and “GO boxes”. The meals are 3 pounds of a stew plus a side (tonight it’s Moroccan chicken tagine with quinoa couscous) for $25, sufficient to serve a family of four “or two with generous leftovers”. The GO boxes are $10 and weigh about a pound; they’re a large salad with the addition of a starch, so could serve as a meal for one or an appetizer for the crowd before your pizza or stew.
Late season tomatoes under Luminance tunnel film
These are distributed in large quantities to a number of corporate centers as far south as Albany, a network which 9 Miles East has built up over several years. His audience is professionals who want good healthy food but are too busy to cook; his competition is the self-serve counters at Whole Foods as well as Blue Apron and other prepared meal delivery services.
And we really are talking farm-to-table. The tomatoes for the pizza sauce and the vegetables and herbs for the pizza are grown right outside the kitchen, in open fields or under Luminance tunnel films which extend the growing period in the extreme upstate environment to three seasons. (During the winter, Gordon buys organic ingredients from other sources because “we realize we’re not going to sell a lot of potato and cabbage pizzas”.) Sausage for the pizza is from a farm down the road and the cheese is from Capielo’s in Schenectady. Vegetables not grown on the premises are acquired from local sources as much as possible.
Some experimental pizzas at a Yelp tasting event, topped with ingredients we picked a few minutes earlier
If you’re in the Saratoga area and want to try 9 Miles East pizza and other products, order on the pizzadelivery.farm website. (Oddly enough, the GO boxes and main dishes don’t appear till you start to build an order.) More about the business deliveries and other corporate programs is here. Even if you’re not local, check it out for some beautiful food photography.
While I was picking up my meal at the farm and chatting with the cooks (some of whom have experience in the kitchens of high-end restaurants of Saratoga and appreciate a shift that ends while the sun is still out), a delivery truck returned and a woman scurried into the fields to pick some basil for the next pizza on order. You’re not going to see that at Domino’s.
* My friend Amy Halloran talks about why gluten-sensitive people may do better with locally grown, minimally processed wheat flour in her book, The New Bread Basket. One theory is that natural grains contain fewer of the byproducts that are found in heavily processed commercial flour. If you want to know more, read her book.