hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture December 2020-January 2021


From Saratoga, flavor by the clove

Horse trainer’s garlic-growing sideline becomes family business


Bill and Max Higgins stand with bunches of garlic bulbs at their Homestead View Farm in the town of Northumberland. The father-and-son team produce their own line of Saratoga Garlic sauces. Joan K. Lentini photoBill and Max Higgins stand with bunches of garlic bulbs at their Homestead View Farm in the town of Northumberland. The father-and-son team produce their own line of Saratoga Garlic sauces. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


On a windy, gray November afternoon, Bill Higgins and his son Max make their way to a newly mulched half-acre square of land on their farm.

Homestead View Farm, set in a wooded area in eastern Saratoga County, is a bit of an agricultural anomaly in an area dominated by dairy and horse farms.

Come late spring, upwards of 5,000 pounds of certified organic garlic will be harvested here. Some will be sold at area farmers markets. But the majority will be alchemized into creamy aioli sauces that will be collected in glass jars and plastic squeeze bottles to be sold locally and shipped around the country under the Higgins’ brand name, Saratoga Garlic.
The half-acre harvest will be enough to keep pace with demand for now, but Bill and Max are discussing planting two to three acres of garlic in the near future – enough for a 20,000-pound yield. The growing conditions of the six-acre farm are nearly perfect for a garlic crop, Bill said, and he rotates to growing fields with alfalfa to replenish the soil nutrients.
“Garlic is easy to grow if it’s not in clay,” he explained. “It likes a nice sandy loam.”

Saratoga Garlic got its start 25 years ago somewhat by coincidence. Bill, a longtime Saratoga Springs horse trainer (he trains under the name W.P. Higgins), would retreat to his secluded farm after a long, sometimes stressful days at Saratoga Race Course. His method of choice to unwind was firing up the tractor and plowing the fields.

Bill’s training career has spanned four decades and has included wins at all the major East Coast tracks. One afternoon, while Bill was pursuing his favored form of stress relief, the famed restaurant owner Jerome Brody stopped by the farm for a visit.

Brody, who owned horses that Bill trained, wanted to inquire about purchasing some small-batch vegetables for the menu at Gallagher’s Steak House in Manhattan, which he owned at the time.
Bill sheepishly explained that he plowed for relaxation and didn’t actually grow a crop.

But the proverbial seed was planted. Brody soon introduced Bill to Vito Latilla, the co-owner of the Manhattan Fruit Exchange, a produce distribution company at Chelsea Market.
“Vito’s the one who got me growing, by telling me he’d buy all the organic garlic I could produce,” Bill recalled.

So he decided to put his ecology degree from Cornell University to use.
“I’ve always been interested in agriculture,” he said. “I tried out several garlic varieties in the beginning and learned that the German White grows best here.”

Word began to trickle out in the late 1990s about Homestead View Farm’s exceptional garlic. Bill still sells heads of German White garlic, which offers juicy cloves with a pleasant bite, at area farmers markets. His longtime customers know something that Bill realized early on: There’s no comparison with the supermarket variety.

“It’s not even garlic: What you see at a supermarket are from leeks, and most of it is from China with no quality control,” Bill said.

His farm’s growing practices, he added, adhere to guidelines set by the nonprofit Garlic Seed Foundation.



Sauces with garlic as the star
Homestead View Farm began to take a new direction in 2001, when Bill collaborated with area chef David Britton to develop six garlic-based aiolis. He ended up buying the recipes from Britton and registered them with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets under the brand Saratoga Garlic.

“I sold the idea of garlic aioli by doing samples,” Bill said, recalling his first year selling the line in 2001. “I angled in from the garlic standpoint, and once people tried the aiolis, they came back for more.”

The five flavors are Homestead (straight garlic), Wasabi and Horseradish, Saffron, Curry, and the chili-infused Sambal. Bill said they pair well with crackers, crudite, on sandwiches, and as an enticing finish to cooked vegetables.

“I like to put it over steamed Brussels sprouts,” he said.
Max, he added, likes to put the saffron aioli under the skin of a turkey before roasting it.
Rounding out the Saratoga Garlic product line is pickled lemon dill garlic cloves, which are available by the jar for salads, garnishes or just eating on their own.

The sauces sold themselves at farmers markets, and New York Times food writer Florence Fabricant sang Saratoga Garlic’s praises in a 2003 column. It wasn’t long before the line of gourmet condiments caught the eye of major retailers such as Price Chopper, Hannaford and the distributor and exporter Haddon House Food Products.

Bill ran the operation largely on his own for years, but Max came aboard more recently to focus on the business aspects and to help expand the mission. It was Max who decided they should offer the aiolis in squeeze bottles in addition to their traditional 9-ounce glass jars, and he also began offering half-gallon drums for the food service industry.

The Hannaford supermarket chain remains their biggest regional customer, but Saratoga Garlic’s aiolis also can be found at area food co-ops and specialty markets. Max also helped solidify contracts with Sysco outlets in Albany, Syracuse and Raleigh, N.C., to distribute the aiolis within the food industry, and they also work with a distributor to ship retail jars out of state.


Adding a pungent taste
Saratoga Garlic’s sauces are now featured on menus across the country and locally. Matthew DiCarlo, who runs food service operations for the Springwater Bed and Breakfast in Saratoga Springs, says they’re a favorite on the breakfast menu.

“The classic blend goes really well with our home fries and on our breakfast sandwich,” said DiCarlo, who operates the business with his mother, owner Leslie DiCarlo. “They really bring great flavor to a simple dish.”

Production takes place in a commercial kitchen at the farm, with a work force that varies by the season. The fresh garlic is mechanically peeled, then mixed with other ingredients before it’s packaged. Prices vary depending on where the products are sold, but the price for direct orders via Saratoga Garlic’s website ranges from $7 for a 9-ounce glass jar to $16 for a half-gallon drum.

When Bill first began production, he sold 20 cases per week. The figure quickly leapt to 70. Now, in the summer months and the holiday season, they sell as many as 120 cases weekly.
The Covid-19 crisis forced some changes this year, and both father and son are lamenting the absence of one of their favorite aspects of the business: participating in garlic festivals.
“They were all canceled this year because of the pandemic,” Max said. “So we had to pivot to focus more on online sales.”

Despite the never-ending demands of running a small business, Max said he takes pride in the family achievement.

“It’s been very fulfilling for me to help my dad grow a brand he began 20 years ago,” he said.
For Bill, the most rewarding part of the business is hearing direct feedback from customers.
“There’s nothing better than someone coming up to my table at the farmers market and saying, ‘This is the best stuff I ever tasted,’” he said. “It makes all the hard work worthwhile.”


Visit www.saratogagarlic.com for more information about Saratoga Garlic and its products.