In the heart of Willcox Wine Country, Tirrito Farms is a proper destination spot that was surprisingly created by a heart doctor.
With a background in research and science, Dr. Sal Tirrito, a cardiologist, and his wife, Yuri, built a place with the dream that people would want to come and visit. They purchased 160 acres of land in Willcox with nothing on it but wild brush and dirt. Now, 80 acres of that land is a working farm surrounded by bustling energy coming from people, animals and plant life.
Open since April 2022, they have 29 people on staff and are having fun employing people that truly want to please their patrons. And they hope that their customers want to learn about the stuff on the farm, be it sustainability, beer, dairy or anything on the property that piques interest.
Still working as a cardiologist in Tucson, Sal travels back and forth to tend to his medical practice. Yuri deals with much of the operations on the farm and drives back and forth from Tucson to get their kids to and from school in between daily farm management.
“What started as a retirement gig with two cows turned out to be so much more,” said Sal Tirrito.
His goal now is to be a part of the community in Willcox. They want to work hand in hand with the winemakers in the area and fit in with their unique piece of the puzzle. They carry wines from many of the nearby wineries in their retail shop and on their bar menu, but they bring the food and beer to the party.
The Tirritos spent time visiting wineries with underground caves, leading them to their massive architectural formation.
“The building is essentially a bomb shelter. There are 350 yards of cement, more cement than any project in the country, and 12 million pounds of dirt,” said Tirrito.
Instead of digging down, as typical bomb shelters go, they put the dirt on top, constructing the same idea with the bonus of climate control. Driving up to the property you pass a huge pond inspired by the dirt needed to complete the building. The vineyard and garden sit at the back of the property and their produce is used for everything made in the kitchen. It is a family attraction as there are often outside games happening, music and a gift shop with wine and cheese for retail, as well as souvenirs. You will be surrounded by animals, many performing a very specific job and some just enjoying the good life. The bees have their own house, and you will see them working hard to make honey for jarring.
The cows and goats on the farm, and maybe a few people, keep the creamery running with a constant flow of fresh milk mostly for their artisan cheeses and house-made ice cream. Everything on their restaurant menu that has cheese on it comes from the cheese they make in-house. Natural Grocers and local coffee shops in Tucson are some of their clients that purchase their milk for retail and use. Using the Low-input Low-impact (LiLi) system the milk is safely and gently pasteurized not only to preserve the richest flavors, but to save the lactase, vitamins and minerals. Lactase helps to break down lactose, which means the lactose-intolerant can go ahead and indulge in their favorite ice cream or cheese.
Tirrito’s mission to educate worked on us, as we were fascinated to learn about the process. Having brewed home beer for over 20 years, Tirrito thought it would be fun to add a brewery to wine country. A guy with a brain for science, he expanded upon that knowledge and implemented a sophisticated high-quality 10-barrel brewhouse, that was more complex than he had ever imagined. He showed us the mill room and water filter system while explaining the importance of keeping the grain settings consistent.
They have two wells from which to pump the water; Tirrito emphasized the importance of quality water in the beer-making process. And one could cut his enthusiasm with a knife as he talked about the hops he is growing and his goals of making beer with them soon. Nothing goes to waste on the farm either, they use the non-alcoholic grain, or “mash,” for compost or to feed their livestock. There are plenty of beers to sample and test your palate and, if you don’t like beer, Tirrito calls the Pilsner non-offensive and easy to drink.
In the restaurant, Chef Jeff Sveum uses locally sourced sustainable and organic ingredients.
“We stay true to every hashtag in the business from farm to table,” said Sveum. Everything is made fresh including pasta, sauces, bread and puff pastries.
Sveum is proud to admit he is not classically trained, but self-taught.
“I went to automotive school after high school, at that time cooking was always my second job. I knew I could make rent cooking because I was good at it,” he said.
Sveum later traveled the country cooking in various restaurants until landing the food and beverage manager position at the Copper Queen in Bisbee. The opportunity to step in as executive chef at Tirrito Farms gave him carte blanche to let his creativity flow through impressive seasonal menus.
We were able to take pleasure in several dishes; the oversized beer-battered mushrooms were a delight and, you could taste every ounce of freshness in the Lil Bit Fettuccine. Not to mention, they are now responsible for my newfound appreciation for Lengua, as it was prepared in their street tacos. You've got to trust me on this, the meat melts in your mouth.
Places to eat are not plentiful in Willcox, this is a wonderful addition to the area as people can taste wine while keeping their bellies happy.
Weddings and events are already on the books at Tirrito Farms, so if you are looking for that special venue to host your party, I recommend making your reservation. Several casitas are on-site for unique gatherings and can be rented out for your weekend getaways. Transportation to and from some of the vineyards will soon be available to and from the farm and possibly servicing the surrounding areas.
The 80 acres on the property that hasn’t been touched, leave all kinds of possibilities for growth on the table. At this time nothing is set in stone but there’s a bit of buzz about building Yurts for guest lodging. The established part of the property does currently reserve one weekend a month to act as a harvest host, allowing visitors to park their mobile homes and RVs to spend the evening.
My husband and I love going down to Willcox and visiting our favorite vineyards; we are thrilled to see a place with a restaurant only a heartbeat away. We had the lovely occasion of dining with the Tirritos during our stay and getting to know them on a personal level. They never stop working though, always making sure the room was running smoothly and that customers were getting the service they strive to implement.
If you would like to visit the farm, be sure to call ahead, especially for larger parties and if you would like a tour. If you are interested in renting the casitas, email email@example.com before it officially hits the Airbnb site. The Tirritos and their staff will do their very best to accommodate you, as they genuinely welcome you from the bottom of their hearts.
Tirrito Farms is located at 6150 S. Kansas Settlement Road in Willcox. Reach them at 520-200-7270.