New York City gets all the pizza credit in the state, but up in the Hudson Valley an apple orchard is turning out pies that are worth the trip.
I’ve lived in New York City for over 17 years, so luck and an itinerant apartment lifestyle means that I’ve lived near some of the city’s most famed pizza spots. And I've certainly eaten at many of the fancy and trendy ones as well. But I never found one that grabbed my heart and made me forgo the many reliable slice joints that dot the city. And then I went apple picking a few years ago and everything changed. I found the pizza that I wanted to eat over and over again, even if it took a two-and-half hour drive to get to it.
Westwind Orchard is the passion project of Laura Ferrara, an in-demand fashion stylist, and her photographer husband Fabio Chizzola. The couple bought the farm in Accord, NY in the Hudson Valley back in 2002 and worked to have it certified organic by 2008. Several years ago, they added pizza to the orchard offerings, and for me, that’s when the magic really started (apologies to the apples). “We are from Italian families and we are Italian. And our culture is so embedded in being around people, and breaking bread, and community,” explains Ferrara. For them, that meant that when visiting apple pickers wanted to hang out at the farm for an extended period, they wanted to whip up some pizza, inspired by their own Italian families. “Fabio's mom has a pizza oven at her home outside of Rome that's outside. And she uses it all the time,” explains Ferrara. “It's very normal to just go out and make bread and make a pizza. It has just a really natural feeling about it.” (More on Fabio’s mother’s cooking later.)
The pizzas at Westwind rotate often, depending on the produce grown at the farm. “We change the menu weekly, guided directly by what the farm is harvesting that week and what is locally foraged. We pay attention to all of the small details of making the pizza and this really allows us to let the farm’s amazingly fresh produce shine through on each pie,” says Ferrara. “We're not afraid to try ingredients that some might consider an afterthought garnish as the star of a pie, like mustard seed flowers (from a cover crop we plant between rotations), apple blossoms (before they turn into fruit), or the humble potato (brined, roasted, and crisped before being crumbled alongside locally produced cheese and fresh sage). ” For my own part, I could eat the simple margherita pizza every day, but this summer’s fresh squash and squash blossom white pie still lingers in my mind.
Even the base of the pizza itself, the all-important and perfectly thin but chewy crust made with the farm’s homegrown yeast-based starter, changes annually. Ferrara points to the Neapolitan-style crust they tried last year in homage to her own childhood in Naples, while this year’s is a Roman-style that honors Fabio’s Roman background. I can’t tell you which one I preferred because it’s like picking between children—I love them both equally. The pizza is fresh and delicious, with the homemade mozzarella melting into perfect orbs and mixing with the judicially portioned toppings. The crust is as crisp as the air, and spending an afternoon outside sipping and snacking while dogs and children race around the open fields is pretty much perfect.
“Food is important in Italy. It's not about convenience or how quick you can make it,” says Ferrara. I can tell you from many rounds of personal experience, it’s worth the wait. Order your pizza off a chalkboard hanging on the wooden door inside the cozy shop, and then pick one of the orchard’s ciders to complement your meal. Head outside to bask in the sunlight (or stay warm by one of the large fire pits in the cooler months), and wait for your pizzas to come out of the wood-fired oven. I’ve found that three pizzas split between four people is just the right amount where you’re almost full, but still have room left for one of the magical desserts that Fabio’s mother bakes during the three months a year she is in residency on the farm. Her tortas, crostatas and magical Italian spin on cider doughnuts are the perfect end to the meal—and require a certain amount of lurking around the shop pretending to inspect the housemade jams and relishes while waiting to pounce on the fresh-baked items as she brings them in.
Next up for the orchard is building out a full cidery, where you’ll be able to taste all the varieties they make along with Italian small bites. Ferrara says of the growth of Westwind Orchard, “We've had the farm for sixteen years, and you know it's been year by year that we've done this, little by little.” Count me in for the next steps as long as there’s still pizza.
Westwind Orchard, 215 Lower Whitfield Rd, Accord, NY; 845-626-0659