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Holy Schmitt horseradish booth, which sold locally grown horseradish roots and jarred prepared horseradish in several varieties, had a long line all afternoon. Photo: Peter Blasl

North Fork Horseradish Festival spices up a Sunday afternoon in Polish Town

The Second Annual North Fork Horseradish Festival drew more than 1,000 people to Riverhead’s Polish Town yesterday afternoon for horseradish demonstrations, tastings, craft beer and 40 vendors selling everything from kielbasa sandwiches to horseradish empanadas.

The festival, put on by Starfish Junction Productions, was held at Long Ireland Beer Co. on Pulaski Street. The brewery even created a special horseradish beer for the occasion.

The North Fork Horseradish Festival grew out of a long-standing spring tradition here: the annual horseradish party, held every year on the Wednesday before Easter for more than 40 years. What started as a backyard gathering of a half-dozen men who would peel, chop, grate and prepare horseradish over cocktails, grew into a party in one of the barns at Martha Clara Vineyards that drew hundreds of people.

In 2013, longtime organizer Pete Danowski called it quits and last year, Starfish Junction — which produces festivals such as a craft beer festival and hard cider festival — decided to try horseradish.

It was a huge success, Starfish Junction owner Andy Calimano said yesterday. So much so, in fact, that he had to look for another location. It was held at Hallockville Museum Farm last year and the crowds it drew backed up traffic on Sound Avenue, Calimano said. Hallockville also ran out of space to park cars, he said.

“We felt this was an easier place to get to,” Calimano said yesterday. “There would be no backup on Sound Avenue. It’s accessible by many different roads. And with the Polish Festival, they get thousands and thousands of people, so we knew parking wouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

Everything went off without a hitch, he said. “We’re very pleased with how it worked out.”

The Holy Schmitt horseradish booth, which all afternoon had a long line of people waiting to taste and buy horseradish had to replenish supplies of its specialty jarred horseradish several times.  The horseradish is grown on the Schmitt farm in Riverhead. The Schmitts prepare the jarred varieties from an old family recipe, said fourth-generation farmer Matt Schmitt, 30, who began selling the horseradish at the family’s Sound Avenue farm stand in 2010. Today they make and sell several varieties: original, barbecue, hot pepper, beet and cranberry; they also make horseradish mustard and cocktail sauce.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Peter Blasl

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