Fourth generation farmer Matt Schmitt, 30, of Riverhead’s Philip A. Schmitt and Son Inc., watched his grandfather and father harvest the first crop of early spring — the horseradish root. In the 1980’s they grew about 25 acres and sold to wholesale markets distributed in time for Easter and Passover.
He said he watched and assisted as his grandfather washed, peeled, grated and mixed the root using his own secret method and recipe. He said friends and neighbors eagerly awaited their fresh ground horseradish that would show up on their doorsteps each spring. This horseradish, gifted in recycled tomato sauce jars, would become his inspiration years later when trying to help keep the family farm and its traditions afloat.
A few years back he couldn’t figure out why they were down to a half-acre of the root on the 200-acre farm. So he began experimenting with his grandfather’s recipe and offered it to some friends at a family Christmas party in 2009 when one friend exclaimed “Holy Schmitt’s” referring to the heat quotient.
Hence, the product was born.
He now grows 5 acres and hopes to increase that to 10 next year.
A simple product is made of just grated horseradish root, vinegar, salt and sugar. He began grinding it using a hand cranked device but invested $12,000 last year on an electric commercial Hobart grinder equipped with a special blade. The first jars were sold at the farmstand on Sound Avenue in 2010. The farm’s regular customers are happy to buy the locally prepared horseradish and several other flavors including pickles and pickled beets.
During the height of the spring season, as Easter and Passover approach, he said he sells between 15 and 30 cases. And as recently as this February the product was certified as Kosher. He said he hopes the brand will continue to grow and he owes all the credit to his grandfather for his recipe and he said he continues to help me with any problems or obstacles along the way.
He and his wife Ashley hope to be able to pass down the farm, its traditions and way of life to their own children one day and to continue farming in this modern agricultural landscape.