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The way we were


Harry's Bar & Grill

Keywords: Pittsford Farms Dairy|milk

Caption: A place for lost treasures, dreams: Pittsford Farms Dairy.

Text: Like many, I have a love-hate relationship with Wegmans. On the one hand, it's great to have the World's Greatest Supermarket 10 minutes away; fantastic to be able to get everything from organic turnips to homeopathic medicine and bialys in one place. The down side, as one friend said when talking about the Abundance Food Market, is that "Wegmans eats stores that size for breakfast."

            Of course, it isn't just Wegmans. The trend toward larger stores is probably irreversible, and isn't entirely evil. The Walmarts and Targets of the world make many products more affordable. I find a wider variety of music at Best Buy than I do at any local record store, and the discs are cheaper.

            But there is also an enormous loss in this trend. You can't have a relationship with a Wegmans butcher like you can with Barry Fischer at the Swann Market. Best Buy doesn't have the Bop Shop's Tom Kohn to offer opinions and bring in eclectic acts. Gutenburg Books has Martha Kelley and feel; Borders and Barnes & Noble don't.

            Sadly, the small, specialized shops are finding it hard to compete. The Balsam Market is gone now, and there really isn't anything else like it. Thank goodness for places like Malek's, LDR Char Pit, and Martusciello's keeping that old-world feel somewhat alive.

            One of the best examples is the Pittsford Farms Dairy, in operation under two families since 1888. Charlie Corby took over from his father-in-law, Ted Zorno, in the '60s. Zorno bought it from the Hawley family, the original owners. Now Corby's son, Charles, helps run things, and says he has no intention of quitting.

            Pittsford Farms Dairy gave up milking cows 15 years ago, and is now the only local milk processor other than Upstate Farms. The differences are in the process and the product offerings. Generally, milk is pasteurized at 170° to 180°, in pipes, for 16 seconds. Pittsford Farms pasteurizes in vats at a much lower temperature (145°), for much longer (30 minutes). It's like slow-cooking using indirect heat. The milk tastes different, markedly sweeter due to caramelization of sugars.

            Another difference is that not all Pittsford Farms milk is homogenized. Un-homogenized whole milk becomes cream-top, which many believe is easier to digest. There's just one place in town to get it. There's no reason to homogenize skim milk, but most processors do it anyway; not Pittsford Farms.

            A third difference is that you can get your milk in glass bottles (you pay a 60 cent deposit). Charles Corby showed me their wonderful, old bottle washing machine (it brings to mind the great milk-plant scene in the film version of The Borrowers). Beer, juice, milk... whatever, it tastes better in glass than it does in plastic or metal.

            The milk is better. Skim often tastes like little more than chalky water, but at Pittsford Farms it's sweet and hints at creaminess (which should be impossible). You've never had chocolate milk like this; made with homogenized milk, pure sugar, and Very Expensive Cocoa, my girls pronounced it, "the best ever." And don't even get me started on the seasonal egg nog (November to April); it'll get you drunk without the rum.

            So what do you pay for this old-world style and excellence? A half-gallon of milk is $1.65 (any kind), as compared to $1.19 at the Pittsford Wegmans or a bonus-card price of $0.79 at the Brighton Tops (on July 3). Is it worth it? That depends on how you feel about the product and supporting this type of business. I shop at butcher shops and bakeries, but buy my CDs mostly at Best Buy; call me a hypocrite.

            Moreover, Charlie and Charles fill their store with an assortment of high-quality specialty items from small producers. There's Java Joe's coffee, Chef K jellies, ice cream from Custard and Candy, Reed's ginger beer, Root 66 root beer, Waxon's honey, fresh organic eggs, and baked goods from Malek's, Baker Street, and the Oven Door among others. Yes, it's like stepping back in time, but with a sharp contemporary awareness brought to the set of offerings as well.

            If the traffic cooperates, it takes about 15 minutes to get to Pittsford Farms from the center of the city. To me, it's worth the effort. Each time a Balsam Market disappears, something is irretrievably lost. The only way to stem the tide is for consumers to prioritize these special spots a bit over convenience. If you haven't tried Pittsford Farms, give it a shot. You might find yourself changing your priorities.

Pittsford Farms Dairy, 44 North Main Street, Pittsford, 586-6610. Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Food tip

Another gem has been added to Rochester's restaurant scene. Mamasan's Noodle Caboodle opened at 2800 Monroe Avenue in mid-June, with sign, bench, and soon a patio railing by artist Paul Knoblauch. You won't believe it used to be a Denny's. The new Mamasan's is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (later on the weekend). The original location remains open Monday through Saturday.

--- Michael Warren Thomas

Michael Warren Thomas can be heard on WYSL 1040. Tune in on Saturdays for gardening, restaurants, and travel from 9 to noon, and on Sundays for antiques and wine from 10 to noon. Listen on the web at