Everyone knows that the best parties always end up in the kitchen. Meet Liz Ihrig, the co-owner and Operations Manager at Hessenland Inn & Schatz Winery, which she runs with her husband, Frank Ihrig.
HESSENLAND INN & SCHATZ WINERY
What makes Ontario wine so special?
I think what makes wine here so special, at least for our area of Huron County, is that the grape varieties that we use here are not very well-known. The grapes grown here are not your typical Chardonnay or Riesling grapes, they are completely different varieties that are producing some pretty amazing wines.
Climate and soil conditions also make wine here very unique. The soil in our area is different from Prince Edward County, and the soil in Prince Edward County is different from that in Niagara. So, the geographic conditions of each region will dictate what qualities are showcased in wines that are being produced.
For us, it has been lovely to see that we’re not the only ones using less common grape varieties. In our area, we have Cornerfield Wine Company, Maleström Winery, and Dark Horse Estate Winery all producing great wine. Here in Huron County, we are placing our mark as the newest wine region based on these new varieties we are working with.
What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?
To try to pinpoint one is hard to do. I like eating whatever is in season, and I’m always amazed at what the kitchen here puts together. They make whatever seasonal ingredients they can get their hands on into really special dishes.
Our most popular dish over the last 37 years has been our Pork Schnitzel. It’s been a favorite for many and will always be a staple. So, if I have to really nail it down, I would say a pairing I enjoy is Pork Schnitzel with our L’Acadie Blanc or Marquette wine.
Do you have a favorite seasonal ingredient?
Yeah! We’re very lucky to be in what Frank calls the “breadbasket of Ontario”. We are surrounded by farms and producers that are literally a bike ride or short drive away!
Two favorite seasonal ingredients are strawberries and tomatoes. We get them from a local farm near us called Masse’s Strawberries. In the springtime or early summer, their strawberries are phenomenal, and we incorporate them into some of our deserts, like our strawberry sorbet. It takes very little to sweeten those things because they are amazingly sweet. When Masse’s tomatoes come up you want to just eat them all in different styles – in sauces, salads, or whatever else the inspiration may be. So for me, those are the two favorite seasonal ingredients.
What’s something that people would be surprised to learn about your role?
Probably the amount of work that goes into my role. Over the years I’ve had people say that they’d love to do what I do, and I’m always surprised to hear that and wonder if they truly know the scope of what we actually do. Sometimes people see a glimpse of what my role entails, whether that’s talking with our visitors, walking around, or something else. But I’m not sure if observers know how much physical work goes into this position – it’s not just walking around or sitting behind a desk. There are a lot of different, and often unglamorous tasks that come into play when running an operation like this.
That said, there are very rewarding parts of my role. I love mentoring and love when I have people that work with us who are interested in learning about our business and how to grow with a business. When I see that people have an invested interest that lights me up. It really excites me to work with people who are lit.
What do you enjoy doing outside of your role as an owner?
Well, I’ve got this puppy who has my heart and soul, so I spend a lot of time with her, take her for walks, and just hang out with her. I also do yoga. I enjoy the practice and like anything that revolves around meditation and yoga.
What is your favorite dish to cook at home?
I tend to do most of the cooking at home, which I enjoy. I’m of Portuguese background, so at home, whenever I can cook dishes that relate to my heritage, I will. Any dish that has Portuguese ingredients thrown into it is a dish that I enjoy cooking. For us, chouriço (Portuguese sausage), or fish are some ingredients that I prepare in a Portuguese style.
What’s the best part of working with Ontario food and drink?
Having such easy access to great ingredients. Having the accessibility to source hyper-locally, and support & promote Huron County producers, not only through our food & beverage purchases is amazing.
Why is Feast On important to you?
I value that the program is focused on keeping procurement local as much as possible. Feast On is a great platform that allows us to learn how businesses are sourcing and know that we don’t have to leave the province to source ingredients. I also appreciate that Feast On allows us to showcase what we are all about. It’s a great platform to educate the public and educate each other.
What does your ‘Perfect Weekend’ in Zurich look like?
We’re very fortunate that we live on the lake and have accessibility to a beach behind our property. Sometimes a perfect weekend for us means going to the farmer’s stand up the road to get fresh ingredients, then coming back home, and simply staying put in our backyard, barbecuing, and using the foods that are available to us.
Other times, if we feel like we want to venture out, we may start our weekend in Goderich, where we take a nice walk around the boardwalk on the beach or take a hike on part of the G2G trail. Then, we stop into Cait’s Cafe, grab a snack or a bite to eat, and then head over to Bayfield. Bayfield is one of our favorite towns, so we spend a lot of time there walking into shops, or whatever else. When we’re there the town becomes our lunch or dinner spot, and then we head back to our house to see the sunset. So pretty simple. We’re very lucky that we don’t have to go very far to enjoy the things that people love about our location.
It’s important to note that when people come to our area, going beyond the towns that you plan to visit is key because that is where the hidden gems lie. Stopping to the places between your destinations is where you get to experience the full culture of what makes our county so special.