Virginia: A Culinary Scene on the Rise
New book The Virginia Table explores the state’s modern bounty.
Things are changing in Virginia. Though the state has a culinary history dating back to the famously epicurean president Thomas Jefferson, there’s a sense right now in the food world that Virginia is coming up.
First consider the rocketing popularity of the state's wine, which Bloomberg named one of the world’s next big wine regions. Then think about the oysters of the Chesapeake Bay, and entire urban communities from Richmond to Charlottesville that are embracing the slow food movement. Even Virginia’s longtime food traditions like peanuts and ham are transforming—you can now buy gourmet peanuts of just about any flavor, and the Surryano ham of Surry Farms has gotten the attention of national food magazines.
“You’ve seen age-old things evolve and modernize,” says Dave Kostelnik, vineyard manager of Early Mountain Vineyards, the Virginia winery owned by former AOL executives Jean and Steve Case. “It’s a really exciting point in the evolution of Virginia food and wine.” Rachel Caggiano, the vineyard’s marketing director, agrees. “It’s happening across the state,” she says. “There’s this real kind of urban revival happening.”
This fall, Early Mountain Vineyards hopes to share that evolutionary story with the release of a book titled The Virginia Table ($22), a collaboration with the Charlottesville storytelling team Our Local Commons. Somewhat of a cross between a coffee table book and a functional cookbook, Our Virginia Table includes recipes and pairings from Virginia chefs, as well as testimonials from industry tastemakers: Chef José Andrés shares why his restaurant America Eats Tavern relies on the bounty of Virginia lands, while restaurateurs Neal and Star Wavra discuss how Virginia towns like their own, Marshall, are developing culinary identities.
But, crucially, Our Virginia Table also explores Virginia through its wine, cheese, beer, grain, meat, and cider, shining a spotlight on the state’s most promising and lesser-known artisans and producers. These include the upstart butchers JM Stock Provisions, the central Virginia cheesemakers at Spring Mill Farm, the millers of Steadfast Farm in Albemarle, and more. With help from Our Virginia Table and its co-creators Kostelnik and Caggiano, here’s a handy tip sheet on how to experience some of these Virginia-made goods:
Harvest Grocery & Supply, Richmond
Harvest bills itself as a neighborhood market and general store, and is stocked with produce and goods both local and farther flung. Come here for your turkey from River Oak Farm, raw honey from Hungry Hill Farm, Blenheim Vineyard wines, or maybe just some truly amazing meat courtesy of the butchers at JM Stock Provisions.
Blue Bee Cider, Richmond
Virginia is famed for its apple orchards, so it’s only natural that apple cider is seeing its time in the sun right now. Our Virginia Table focuses on Blue Bee Cider, which opened in 2013 as the first urban cidery in Virginia; there’s a wide range of ciders on offer, from the old-fashioned to a rosé infused with wild mulberries. Visitors to Richmond can also sample their small batch ciders on draft in the tasting room that is open daily. Tours are available on weekends.
Both a specialty foods store and a sandwich shop, Feast! is Charlottesville’s go-to spot for gourmet goods. Its cafe menu boasts local favorites like Caromont goat cheese and Polyface chicken salad, while the store offers a variety of nuts, olive oils, and gift packages such as the Virginia Feast! in a Box, which includes two artisan cheeses, salami, fruit chutney, peanuts, dark chocolate, and hard apple cider.
JM Stock Provisions, Charlottesville
The butchers at JM Stock Provisions got their start at Brooklyn’s iconic shop the Meat Hook, and have brought that philosophy of whole-animal butchery to the delight of Charlottesville carnivores. Stop in here for sirloin from Wolf Creek Farm, pastured pork from Autumn Olive Farms, pastured chicken from River Oak Farm, cider tastings from Potter’s craft cider, locally produced vinegar, and their own homemade sausages.
Monticello Wine Trail
Virginia’s wine industry appears to be unstoppable in its ascent, so take some time to follow the Monticello Wine Trail, accessible from Charlottesville in Central Virginia. On this particular stretch, you’ll find the likes of Early Mountain Vineyards, Blenheim Vineyards, and Barboursville Vineyards, all respected in the industry.
Port City Brewing Company, Alexandria
Earlier this year, Port City Brewing Company was named the nation’s best small brewery at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Founded in early 2011, you can now find Port City’s beers like Optimal Wit, Monumental IPA, and Port City Porter in bars across the DC area—or you can just stop in for a drink in the tasting room, which is open seven days a week with tours Thursday through Sunday.
The Whole Ox, Marshall
Billing itself as “probably the best butcher shop in Northern Virginia,” the Whole Ox is a whole animal butcher shop that works with local distributors such as Buffalo Creek Farm, Saddle Ridge Farm, and Yohanan Farm. There’s also a shop selling cheese, wine, beer, and house-made foods like sausages, bacon, stock, soups, and prepared foods.
Boxwood Winery, Middleburg
Since its launch in 2005, Boxwood Winery has become a favorite of oenophiles from Northern Virginia and beyond. Boxwood only produces a few styles of red wine in the Bordeaux tradition, using cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, and malbec grapes. The winery’s tasting room is open on weekends (check the website for hours), but you can also visit its wine bar in Reston, Virginia.
Three Notch’d Brewing, Harrisonburg
About a year after launching its operations in Charlottesville, Three Notch’d opened this taproom in Harrisonburg in May 2014. Our Virginia Table highlights Three Notch’d for its small batch brews created by head brewer Mary Morgan using ingredients like local honey. Three Notch’d also collaborates with local businesses in Harrisonburg, creating brews like a blueberry muffin-inspired beer for a local coffeehouse.