Feeding the Authentic Experience

Local Inspiration Iris Cabin 4

Sourcing local ingredients today is the ideal way to upgrade hospitality.

By Stef Schwalb

Virginia's Shenandoah Valley features some of the East Coast's most breathtaking scenery. A destination known for its farming legacy and as a premier wine-growing region, buying local seems like a no-brainer, and at Iris Inn in Waynesboro, Va., Chef Caitie Maharg takes that fact to heart.

Salmon copyThe inn works with three area purveyors on a regular basis for their menus, including Polyface Farms and Meadowcroft Farms in Swoope, Va., and Malcolms Market Garden in Staunton, Va. "I think it is important for us to use locally sourced ingredients because it shows we add a special touch by caring to make sure our guests get the best," Maharg reveals. "I also think it is important to know where my food is coming from and how it is being treated. We get our local ingredients by direct contact with the farms we are working with. I call and order weekly, and they deliver to us."

Establishing relationships with these farms came about after Maharg attended a farm-to-fork event where the purveyors had booths set up. Winery contacts came through firsthand visits to the vineyard sites, as well as establishing some good will by recommending the inn's guests go there. Having these connections is critical to cultivating an authentic local experience, which guests continue to crave during their stay. It also helps make Maharg’s job of developing innovative and fresh dishes easier to achieve.

"The relationship between a chef and her suppliers is extremely important," she explains. "Not only do they want the inn and our guests to be happy, but I think [it’s also about] building a relationship with them based on knowing my preferences. They are excellent at reaching out to me when they get special things in that they know I would like to use. Also, this area is unique in the fact that it offers so many local foodie, wine, beer, and cider lover attractions. You can't beat going to a local farm to see how the food you just ate for breakfast was obtained, having a wine tasting straight from the barrel, or tasting a freshly brewed beer or cider right out of the tap."

A Local Experience

Speaking of breakfast, the morning meal is (of course) something this luxury B&B excels at. "We have had several comments from guests about our farm fresh eggs - you just can't beat those," enthuses Maharg. "We have also had numerous comments on the locally sourced jams, preserves, and the pork sausage. We get our eggs and breakfast sausage from Polyface and all of our jam from Meadowcroft. We also source local peaches and greens from Cavalier Produce, a company that works with a variety of local farms in the area."

Local Inspiration Iris Cabin 3But it's not just breakfast where guests enjoy a locally sourced experience. These ingredients are actually featured in numerous culinary offerings at the inn, a conscious choice on the part of Maharg and its owners Heidi and Dave Lanford. "I just started to get some cheeses from a local source, and the cheese balls we use for our nightly wine and cheese hour are made locally," she adds. "As for the wine, we feature three local Virginia wines and several local beers. The wines come from a distributer, but the wineries are Rockbridge Vineyard, Lovingston Winery, and Jefferson Vineyards, and we use beer from Brothers Craft Brewing and Devils Backbone Brewing Company, plus cider from Bold Rock Hard Cider.

“When we have special dinners, lunches, or hors d'oeuvres (for groups of 8 or more inn guests), I always try to find as many locally grown and raised foods as possible," she continues.

Having access to local sources has also helped the inn develop new and unique culinary experiences, too. One of the latest additions is the Sip & Simmer Cabin Dinner. Designed to provide a master chef experience to home cooks of any skill level, Maharg prepares a four-course seasonal dinner and pairs it with local wines, then leaves it to guests to add the finishing touches in the privacy of their own chic treehouse cabin.

Some of the decadent dishes include a choice of either Roasted Fennel and Orange Chicken with a Honey Ale Glaze or Lemon Garlic Salmon, both served with Garlic Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus, and paired with a Virginia blended red, the Lovingston Rotunda. All recipes and souvenir wine glasses are included.

Iris Inn, which overlooks the beautifully scenic Shenandoah Valley from a 12-acre Blue Ridge mountaintop, is situated in a prime location close to 28 wineries, 500 miles of hiking trails, a vast range of scenic farmland, and numerous area attractions. In addition to their use of locally sourced ingredients, the innkeepers provide their guests with resources for local farm tours, winery visits, as well as beer and cider tasting venues.

Stef Schwalb is the director of content/marketing for BnBFinder.com, one of the world’s most comprehensive B&B directories. You can read more about B&Bs and travel at the BnBFinder.com/blog. Schwalb can be reached at Stefanie@bnbfinder.com.

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