Last night, at the Toliver House restaurant in charming Gordonsville, about 50 people gathered to celebrate the bounty of food and drink that’s locally produced. The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) sponsored the four-course dinner, but attention fell mostly on the farmers (and distillers, winemakers and ice-cream producers) in attendance, and the food they’d created.
Prepared by Toliver House chef Jonathan Hayward, the meal was entirely built around local meats, produce, cheeses and wines—and whiskey! Yes, local single-malt whiskey, produced by the Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville. Owner Rick Wasmund muddled mint (which grows behind the distillery) for summery cocktails and talked about how he gets all his barley from a single, nearby grower. This fact competed for attention with the delectable cheddar cheeses of Unionville’s Marshall Farms, two platters of which were handily dispatched by attendees before everyone retired to the dining room.
So what can you get locally right now? Answer: At least four courses of sophisticated goodness. First was a salad of Retreat Farm beets, Caromont Farm goat cheese, and Planet Earth Diversified basil. This was paired with a Viognier from Keswick Vineyards, whose winemaker, Stephen Barnard, spoke to the group about moving from his native South Africa to produce wines in the challenging climate of Virginia ("A terrible year in South Africa is a good year in Virginia," he said, not unkindly). Keswick’s acidic Verdejo stood up nicely to the citrus vinaigrette that dressed the next course, a microgreens salad with small tomatoes from Planet Earth Diversified. Michael Clark of that long-established Stanardsville farm spoke briefly about the primacy of "local" over "organic" and the trickiness of the latter term, as farmers struggle to innovate within the sometimes restrictive bounds of federal regulations.
Retreat Farm’s Frank Gillan took the stage next, alongside roasted leg of lamb that he’d raised—a breed called Karakul, he explained, that dates to Biblical times and is hardier than many modern hybrids, thus requiring fewer antibiotics and deworming treatments. Chickens also help him keep pests away.
Having downed three glasses of wine and copious amounts of food at this point (did we mention the Retreat Farm potatoes and spinach that accompanied the lamb?), diners might have lolled in an uncomfortable stupor, but for the energetic description by Lynsie Watkins—co-owner of Waynesboro ice cream company Perfect Flavor—of her French custard-making routine: pasteurizing local milk in "the country’s smallest pasteurizer," a 15-gallon model, then cracking 250 Polyface eggs by hand into the mixture, a two-and-a-half-hour process. "We believe that milk has a terroir" just like wine or cheese, said Watkins. As she talked, diners made moaning sounds in response to the taste of her ice cream paired with rhubarb-strawberry crisp and Keswick’s ultra-sweet Nektar dessert wine.
And there was much rejoicing.
Lynsie Watkins and other local food producers made mouths water with their wares at the Toliver House Tuesday night.