At the Farm Shop, a brightly painted storefront sited at the crossroad of Buffalo’s Ashland and Lexington avenues, something novel is happening. It’s a food experiment of sorts, according to Patrick Lango, the dairy farmer who owns it.
The Farm Shop, which serves as the retail arm of Lango’s White Cow Dairy, is the outgrowth of his reaction to industry conditions and market realities that are squeezing American family dairy farms out of business. Lango decided years ago that wholesale milk production was an untenable business model for his 200-acre farm in East Otto, New York, where cows graze freely on grasses and assorted wild flora.
For seven years, White Cow Dairy sold its line of European-style, whole milk yogurt at Murray’s Cheese in New York City’s West Village and other Manhattan outlets to rave reviews. Well-heeled and food-conscious New Yorkers clamored for the stuff; and yet, despite the yogurts’ popularity, White Cow Dairy was barely breaking even. “We were getting a really good reputation, but it wasn’t going anywhere,” said Lango.
In an economic era that has rendered precarious the existence of family farms, the Farm Shop is Lango’s experiment in survival. Together with his business partners and friends, Hollywood actress Renee Russo and her husband Dan Gilroy, Lango made a decision to turn away from wholesale toward retail, away from high-volume to small-scale production, and away from New York City toward Buffalo as a means of achieving long-term sustainability. If the experiment proves successful, Lango hopes his will become a replicable business model for family farms facing similar financial dilemmas.
His idea, to bring yogurt and the company’s various other products directly from the farm to a dense residential neighborhood, and making those products available year-round, is now three years underway at the Farm Shop. The space is small and simple—little more than a roof, a few coolers, some shelving, and a counter—but it teems with exquisitely made local foodstuffs and culinary curiosities to a degree that defies its humble and diminutive appearance.
Chief among the comestible marvels that comprise the Farm Shop’s inventory are the myriad dairy products—the various yogurts ($3), puddings ($4.25), sauces ($7), labneh ($6), and quark ($6), just to name a few—that bear the White Cow label.
These items are the impeccable fruits of Lango’s dedication to antediluvian recipes and methods for elevating milk to higher, more nourishing states. White Cow Dairy’s baked custards ($4.25), for instance, are an adaptation of a recipe by fin-de-siècle master chef and Gourmet magazine co-founder Louis P. De Gouy, who praised custards as much for their nutrition as their gustatory pleasure.
The result of Lango’s obsession with authenticity and saving recipes from obscurity are products that celebrate the nuanced taste of milk procured from grass-fed cows. They also challenge modern palates to appreciate the experience of full-fat foods free of chemical additives and excess sugar.
In addition to being gloriously old-fashioned, the products are decidedly sophisticated and cosmopolitan in terms of their flavor profiles—an area where Lango and his research and development staff of one take admirable risks. On any given day, you might find in stock a tarahumara-flavored dairy tonic—what White Cow Dairy calls its line of fermented whey drinks—made with turmeric, sumac, ancho peppers, and honey. Another dairy tonic combines charred pineapple and hibiscus tea.
Yogurt flavors are similarly unusual. On a recent visit, they ranged from burnt orange rosemary and strawberry mint fennel, on the sweet end of the spectrum, to parsley and pico de gallo on the savory. And the flavors are always changing.
Creating unconventional, extraordinary products is now the centerpiece of Lango’s business plan. “If you put value on [milk], and turn it into an amazing food … people will come to it and eat it.”
Lango readily identifies that value in others’ goods as well, so he doesn’t limit the store to White Cow Dairy products. In support of the local culinary community, and in recognition of the fact that his customers need to round out their pantries, the Farm Shop also serves as a venue where farmers and startup food makers can sell their wares at whatever price they set—as long as Lango deems their work exceptional.
“We have been incubating food ideas for people,” he said.
Rolf’s Bread herbed and spiced flatbreads are among the locally produced food items offered at the Farm Shop. (Caitlin Hartney/Special to The News)
Expertly baked loaves of Rolf’s Bread sourdough and herbed and spiced flatbreads are regularly in stock, as are eggs, meats, and honeycomb from nearby farms and locally fermented tempeh and kombucha.
Bean-to-bar chocolate crafted in Lancaster lines the Farm Shop’s shelves, as do bottles of cider vinegar from local apples and jars of quinoa granola made by Buffalo-based pop-up bakery Butter Block. Butter Block’s croissants and pastries are also among the popular items available—albeit, only on Saturday mornings.
That the menu of dairy products and available sundries is constantly changing is in line with the Farm Shop’s offbeat character. For the chefs and laypeople who scour the store in hopes of discovering an unfamiliar food item, trying the latest unconventional yogurt flavor, or gleaning culinary inspiration from the store’s shelves, it’s also paramount to the Farm Shop’s appeal.
For Lango, that is exactly the point. Exiting the New York City market and dialing down on Buffalo has freed him to pour all of his energy into the food, and it is the quality of the food—not gimmicks or savvy marketing—that he believes turns a one-off visitor into a repeat customer.
“The food is the message,” he said with conviction. “The food is the messenger. You let the food do the talking.”
The Farm Shop is located at 241 Lexington Avenue in Buffalo. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Phone: 256-8235.
Caitlin Hartney is a freelance writer with a healthy appetite whose opinions and musings can also be read at buffalorising.com.