New Finds from the Old Dominion

by Sean Kelly

Ask most foodies where the world’s best artisanal foods come from and the answer will often be “Europe, of course.” On the other hand, ask a Virginia native where the world’s best hams come from and you can expect a very different answer.

Virginia has its own rich culinary traditions with hundreds of years of practice to back them up, but recently products from the state have truly come into their own. In everything from cheese to charcuterie, Virginia is turning out some of the best artisanal foods their side of the Mason-Dixon and, indeed, anywhere in the country.

Meadow Creek Dairy

Tucked away in the highlands of Virginia, Meadow Creek Dairy is the picture of small production and sustainability. Meadow Creek has been nominated for awards and recognized on the basis of not only their phenomenal cheesemaking skills, but also aspects such as “good animal husbandry” (i.e. humane and responsible treatment of their animals) and their refusal to use pesticides in the pastures or in the animals’ feed. As a result, this dairy produces seasonal cheeses that change with the environment and are direct descendants of the rich land from which they came. Their Appalachian, a natural-rind, tomme style beauty, and Grayson, a buttery and pungent washed-rind that recalls Taleggio or Livarot, are prime examples: both cheeses glow a bright, straw-like yellow color (indicative of healthy, grass-fed cows) and boast complex earthy, vegetal flavors that can only come from naturally and expertly produced cheeses.

Surry Farms

Many “purists” scoff at the mere idea of an outstanding cured ham coming from anywhere other than Parma, San Daniele or the Iberian Peninsula. Poor, poor souls…

Enter Surry Farms, a 3rd generation collection of cure masters that takes the tradition of breed-specific cured meats and puts a distinctly American spin on it. Surry Farms makes their wide range of products, from bacon to hams to guanciale, with 100% purebred Berkshire hogs raised completely outdoors in and around the area of Myrtle, Missouri. When they arrive at Surry, these hams are perfectly marbled, rich in color and flavor, and simply beautiful. However, their journey has just begun. The cure masters take these hams and dry cure them, smoke them over hickory for 7 days, and age them no less than 400 days to produce their signature meat, the Surryano Ham. We’ve recently procured a few legs of the coveted peanut-fed Surryano that is even more silky and delicate than the original!

Olli Salumeria

What do you get when the grandson of an Italian salumi master discovers the pristine pasture-raised hams of Virginia? You get an exquisite line of prosciutto and salame proudly produced in America with traditional Italian methods and values, that’s what. In 2009, Olivario Colmignoli and Charles Vosmik sat down and sought to accomplish just that. Olivario (Olli) had been working for a U.S. subsidiary of his grandfather’s salumi business when Vosmik posed an important question: if you know the techniques and have the resources, why don’t you just make the products here? A week later, Vosmik procured several Berkshire hams for Olli, and the pair went to work. The result was phenomenal, and Olli Salumeria began to take shape. Now, among their line of cured hams, Olli has expanded to make several traditional regional Italian salamis that highlight both traditional European methods and prime Virginia ingredients. Their Norcino, Napoli, and Calabrese salamis all embody different regional Italian flavors while letting the rich Berkshire pork take the spotlight.

Virginia Chutney Co.

While hams and cured meats seem to dominate the foodscape of Virignia, accompaniments can’t be overlooked. Virginia Chutney Company makes amazing chutneys and jams that borrow from a wide range of traditions. The company’s founders Clare and Nevill grew up in East Africa and England, respectively, and met in the Caribbean where they began to make chutneys together. The duo moved to Virginia and have been making a spectacular line of sweet, spicy, salty, fruity deliciousness ever since. Their latest creation, Preservation Society Pepper Jelly made from red, green, jalapeño, and habañero peppers, brings sweetness, heat, and a perfect pairing for meats and cheeses.

Check out all of these great finds in our new Virginia State Fare collection!

A Tale of Two Piggies: The Heritage Difference

by Louise Geller

If like me, you grew up finding pork largely unimpressive, it’s time to take a second look at what it was meant to be. In the US, the pork industry has spent years taking one of the most naturally delicious animals in the world and breeding the flavor right out of it. The vast majority of pork on the US market is bred for leanness and consistency, and as such as become dull, boring and predictable. Where’s the flavor? I’ve always struggled to understand why “the other white meat” would be a good thing. Heritage breeds like Mangalitsa and Berkshire will take your love of pork to the next level – and show you that this meat is in a class of its own.

Mangalitsa
Originally bred to be eaten only by Hungarian royalty, Mangalitsa still maintains a flavor that will make you feel like a king. If you’ve ever had Hungarian salami, you know Mangalitsa: smoky and rich, substantial in flavor and in texture. More and more, these fine pigs are being bred domestically. The meat is far too dark to ever be called “white meat,” and marbled beautifully. Don’t be turned off by the presence of a large amount of fat – these pigs are known for their fat and in many places raised especially for it. Mangalitsa lard is high in monounsaturated fat and oleic acid, making it lighter, cleaner, and yes, healthier. (Mind you, we’re not labeling lard a health food, but if you’re going to eat it – and let’s face it, you’re going to – it’s definitely the healthier option)

The Mangalitsa breed was saved from extinction in the latter half of the 20th century through the work of a group of Eastern European farmers who revived the breed from 200 surviving purebreds. Today they are becoming more and more widely available, though due to their substantial requirements for food and space it is still a skilled farmer who decides to raise a herd of Mangalitsas. Lucky for us, Mosefund farm in New Jersey is doing just that, and you can get a taste the heritage difference with their fantastic bacon.

Berkshire
Perhaps the most well-known of the heritage breeds, Berkshire pigs originated in Britain where, you guessed it, they were first bred to be consumed by the royal family. They have been bred now for over 300 years, and with good reason – Berkshire meat is sweet, rich and incredibly juicy.

Berkshires were first brought to the USA in 1823 and were initially assimilated into the general pork population – luckily they were rescued from a future of mediocrity in 1875 when a group of breeders who recognized the importance of keeping the breed pure established the American Berkshire Association. Look for the “100% Pure Berkshire Pork” label – this means the producer is a member of the association. Olli Salumeria combines Mangalitsa and Berkshire pork to make their phenomenal salami.

These are just a few of the awesome heritage breeds on the market in the US today – and it is well worth the effort to seek them out for all your pork consumption needs. You’ll never look back!