As we get closer to the snowy season in Toronto, many people will make the short drive out of the city to Hockley Valley Resort in Orangeville. Over the past 25 years, Hockley Valley Resort has become well known for its skiing. And given my complete inability to ski or snowboard, it’s probably not surprising that I’d never given much thought to visiting the resort. That all changed this past summer when I found out there was far more to the place than just winter sports.
Over the past couple of years, Hockley Valley Resort has gone through a transformation under president and general manager John-Paul Adamo. As the son of the owners, Adamo has basically grown up at the resort, where he cooked in and then ran the kitchen. Since taking the helm, a large part of Adamo’s focus has been on capitalizing on Hockley Valley Resort’s location in fertile Dufferin County and making the place a culinary destination.
The vegetable gardens at Hockley Valley Resort
Jenny and I had the chance to see the fruits of his labour firsthand when we visited in August. One of the first things you notice as you pull into the resort’s parking lot is its two-acre vegetable garden. The garden was planted in 2009 on the spot where Hockley Valley Resort’s tennis courts used to stand, and it now supplies a large portion of the produce used by its kitchens (what doesn’t come from the Hockley garden is sourced from local farmers). In the summer, a woodburning oven that sits in the garden is used to bake pizzas.
A sampling of some of the great charcuterie at Hockley Valley Resort
The self-sustaining food ethos continues inside as well, with a cold room full of made-in-house prosciutto, capicollo and pancetta. The meats—as well as other meat products from local producers like Pingue and Il Tagliere, and an assortment of cheeses from around the world—show up on the menus of the resort’s wine bar, Babbo, and its Restaurant 85.
“Growing up in an Italian family, garden-to-table cooking was the norm. I remember going to my grandfather’s house and watching him in the garden. Cured meats, wine, bread and cheese were staples in our house and I was introduced to them at a very young age,” Adamo told me when I asked him about what influenced his decision to produce so many of Hockley Valley Resort’s food products in-house. “Moving to Florence and Switzerland for three years only reinforced my roots and beliefs when it comes to food and how we should be eating.”
The lounge in Hockley Valley Resort’s Restaurant 85
There’s more to come in the resort’s culinary transformation, too. Its latest restaurant, Cabin 1865, is set to open in late December, with chef Michael Potters (known for his time in kitchens around Toronto, his own Harvest Restaurant in Prince Edward County, and a brief stretch at Angeline’s this year) running the show. A smokehouse is also in the plans, for in-house production of everything from bacon to smoked cheese and fish. And expanded baking facilities will allow the resort’s chefs to make everything from breads to wedding cakes.
Dining al fresco by the pool at Hockley Valley Resort
And Adamo has big plans for the small vineyard that was taking shape on the grounds of Hockley Valley Resort when we visited. “This is the brainchild of my father, who has always been the visionary. He sees our area as the next big wine region. We have just under 1,000 vines planted this year. There are plans for 2,000 to 4,000 vines next year, with production of sparkling wine to start in three years.”
Of course, food alone doesn’t make a great vacation spot. During our visit, Jenny and I had the chance to enjoy Hockley Valley Resort’s spa and their outdoor pool (they have an indoor pool and a hot tub as well, both undergoing renovations when we were there). And as we sat on the outdoor patio enjoying one of the Pasta Sociale dinners they hold throughout the summer, and later drove around the surrounding areas, we both talked about how it all reminded us a bit of the time we spent in Tuscany last summer. While we may not take advantage of the skiing that’s made the resort a winter destination for a quarter century, it’s nice to know that there’s a place so close to home that we can visit when we need a small taste of Italy.
The overhead photo at the top of this post was borrowed from the Hockley Valley Resort Facebook page.