The Woodstock man behind In Mark’s Kitchen whips up basil and dandelion greens pestos that are just as divine on pasta as they are straight out of the jar.
The first time Mark Goldfarb realized his pesto was something special, he was in his Woodstock kitchen. His friend and Hudson Valley chef Gianni Scappin, owner of Cucina in Woodstock and Market Street in Rhinebeck, had stopped by for a visit, so Goldfarb invited him to sample a spoonful.
Scappin loved it.
“After trying the pesto, he insisted that I codify this recipe and launch a pesto business,” Goldfarb, who has resided in Woodstock since 1987, recalls.
Although Goldfarb has long enjoyed cooking for himself and his wife, Diane, he is not a chef. Prior to launching In Mark’s Kitchen, his Hudson Valley pesto brand, he maintained only a liminal presence in the local food industry. Aside from his friendship with Scappin, who he met when the chef helmed the kitchen at GiGi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, he also serves as a part investor and owner of Armadillo in Kingston.
So when Scappin recommended he seriously consider launching a pesto brand, Goldfarb knew he had some thinking to do.
Mark Goldfarb with his namesake pesto
“I turned 60 last year and, in doing so, realized there were many things in my life that I would like to accomplish beyond my footwear business,” he says. That footwear business, Catskill Mountain Moccasins, was something he founded with Diane close to 40 years ago. A custom footwear brand, it takes the couple across the country to craft shows and renaissance exhibitions to showcase their artisanal, handcrafted shoes. Working with a team of more than a dozen artisans across the United States, the duo exhibits over 120 weekends a year, with a delivery time of 14 months from when an order is placed.
Needless to say, shoemaking and pesto making are more than a little distinct. Yet that didn’t stop Goldfarb from pursuing a passion that had long danced on the outskirts of his consciousness. After tackling the business basics like forming his LLC in winter 2018, applying for permits, and designing his labels, he went to work to source the ingredients that power his signature pesto. An extensive amount of research later, he found the perfect cold-pressed olive oil from an importer in New Jersey who sources directly from Lucca, Italy. The basil comes from Honolulu, Hawaii in 100-pound deliveries to Newark International Airport.
In the earliest days of In Mark’s Kitchen, Goldfarb was a one-man show operating out of Scappin’s restaurant Cucina’s commercial kitchen. He produced every single jar of pesto himself until spring 2019, when he realized it was time to find a copacker to expand his brand. He partnered with Pika’s Farm Table in Lake Katrine to ramp production up to 50 cases of pesto – with 12 jars per case – at a time. Since spring, he’s already completed three production runs.
Currently, In Mark’s Kitchen crafts two types of pesto: an original version with a basil and arugula base and another with a dandelion greens superfood twist. In both, Parmigiano Reggiano DOP is the cheese that imparts the salty, savory flavor, while organic garlic from California adds bite. Pine nuts deliver a light nuttiness, lemon juice brings a subtle zippiness, and salt brings all the flavors into harmony. Oil droplets at the top of the jar are minimal, thanks to the proportion of cheese in the mix, and there are no additives, no preservatives, and nothing beyond the pesto ingredients themselves.
While Goldfarb loves both of his pestos, he’s particularly pleased with his superfood variety. With each taste, the earthy, slightly bitter notes of the dandelion greens shine alongside the rich cheese and pine nuts. The recipe is a hit, albeit a slightly unexpected one; Goldfarb landed upon it by happenstance after returning home from the market with a bunch of the greens.
“[My wife] said, ‘Why don’t you try making a pesto with the dandelion greens?’” he explains. “The result was stunning, the reviews were fantastic, and I immediately designed a new label that would print directly on a beautiful glass jar.” Speaking of those glass jars, they recently received a redesign when Goldfarb chose to eliminate shrink wrap labels. He now prints his logo and nutritional facts directly on the jar so as to minimize waste.
One of Goldfarb’s signature pesto pizzas
In the Hudson Valley’s, Goldfarb’s pestos are on shelves at Adams Fairacre Farms and Cheese Louise in Kingston, Emmanuel’s Marketplace in Stone Ridge, Olsen & Company in Saugerties, and Woodstock Meats and Sunflower Natural Foods Market in Woodstock. Pesto lovers can also order jars directly from his website.
While Goldfarb is happy to see In Mark’s Kitchen up and running, he’s looking forward to experimenting with new products. Next up, he wants to perfect vegan renditions of both of his pestos so as to cater to a wider audience. He already crafted a proprietary vegan parmesan from raw cashews, nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic powder. If all goes well, he’ll debut the dairy-free concoctions this winter.
With so much pesto testing on his plate, how does Goldfarb enjoy the green stuff?
Straight out of the jar, he says.
“I’m constantly making quart after quart of pesto at home and watch it get devoured straight out of the jar by Diane and myself,” he says. That being said, he happily swirls spoonfuls of it into pastas and soups or smears dollops atop pizza and sandwiches. He recently purchased a wood-fired pizza oven for his home and loves using it to entertain friends in the warmer months.
“There is nothing like really awesome pizza baked in your own wood oven with Mark’s Kitchen pesto on it,” he says.