Artisanal Foods and Products Await in Virginia

With its sprawling countryside and 46,000 farms, Virginia is home to dozens of shops filled with local and organic products. These country stores are tucked away on the quaint main streets of small-town Virginia, offering fresh, homegrown foods to those in the know. Here are a few shops in Northern Virginia offering artisanal cheeses, meats and sweets:

Back Creek Farms has been making pure maple syrup in Monterey since 1838. The family-owned farm got its name from its traditional production process of collecting sugar water from the trees that line the surrounding creeks. Buckets and open pans are used to make syrup, along with modern pumps. Back Creek’s products are sold throughout Virginia at stores such as the Little House Green Grocery in Richmond and the Monticello Gift Shop and Virginia Made Shop in the Shenandoah Valley.

Considered a go-to in Middleburg, The Home Farm Store is Ayrshire Farm’s butcher shop and grocery store, selling a variety of products made by Virginia artisans and others. Among the store’s many weekend events are “Sips and Snacks” on Friday evenings and cooking demonstrations on Saturday afternoons.

Down the road, The Whole Ox is an artisanal butcher located in The Plains. Derek and Amanda Luhowiak opened the shop, housed in an old trading depot, in 2011. Prior to opening The Whole Ox, the couple owned and operated Local 647, a food truck that traveled all over Northern Virginia. The truck was famous for its half-pound grass-fed burger, featured on the Today Show.

Today, The Whole Ox sells ethically produced products, the majority of which are sourced from Virginia. The shop’s mulberry vinegar comes from Lindera Farms in Linden. Ol’ Red Eye hot sauce is made from smoked habanero peppers aged in oak barrels from Marshall.

One of the all-homemade sausages is the “Sammy Davis,” made with juniper, coriander, bay leaf and pork.

Heading southwest, The Market at Grelen in Somerset boasts a full community calendar, complete with lunch series, dinner and concert combos and workshops. Grelen has a seasonal farm market, garden shop and café offering a variety of treats made from local ingredients. Favorites include molasses cookies, Grelen ice cream and sorbet made with Grelen fruit and local cream and local cheeses from Caromont Farm in Esmont.

Just outside of Charlottesville in Free Union, farmers (and couple) Erica Hellen and Joel Slezak started Free Union Grass Farm on Slezak’s family land in 2010. According to their farming philosophy, “Free Union Grass Farm is a holistic livestock operation that utilizes modern techniques as well as pre-industrial, timeless ecological principles to produce nourishing food for our community.” The farm’s products are sold mainly in Charlottesville and Richmond, but there are plans to expand. “Having a presence in D.C. is definitely a goal for the near future,” Slezak said.

Out west, Polyface Farms is another pasture-based meat and dairy producer in Swoope. Since 1961, this multi-generational business has provided top-quality non-industrial foods, including beef, pork, poultry, and rabbits. The farm’s objective is to heal unethical practices and thoughts surrounding food. Their products can be found in a number of shops across the state, including Rebecca’s Natural Foods in Charlottesville, Ellwood Thompson’s in Richmond, Off the Vine in Williamsburg and The Organic Butcher in McLean. As you venture out this spring, enjoy the artisanal foods found in our own bountiful “backyard.”

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