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Virginia farmers shine at DC Market

 Virginia farmers

Virginia farmers

By Jordan Wright
Food Editor

On a dazzling autumn morning I met my new friend, Mitch Berliner, a former chef and the unofficial mayor of the Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market in the District.

Berliner is the consummate foodie and I trusted him to show me around the thriving 40-year-old market, but he was racing home to prepare breakfast for an unexpected guest and he deposited me in the most capable hands of his dear friend, Bernadine Prince.

One of the original founders since 1997, when it was a warm season experiment, she knows the farmers, their partners, their children, their livestock and their specialties.  Now referred to as FreshFarm Markets, it has expanded from its original 15 farms to over 70 and is open Sunday mornings year-round.

A font of information, “Bernie,” as she prefers, was a kind and charming guide for my adventure.

In this market where all of the vendors are required to produce everything themselves and with a myriad of stalls displaying everything from pumpkin gelati and heirloom organic vegetables to locally made Vachino Bianca (a rennet-free cheese) and pear cider, I met people with a warmth and willingness to speak about their products.

The varieties seemed endless.  Sampling in earnest began.

From Blue Ridge Dairy in Leesburg, VA, farmers Paul and Alison Stephan offered Applewood smoked mozzarella, a creamy but light ricotta, and buratta from his herd of Guernsey cows.  They plan to make “bufala di latte” mozzarella from water buffalos which they are just starting to raise.

I met 80 year old sheep farmer Pat Elliott, MD who still maintains her countryside practice for local patients.   Dr. Elliott keeps 250 East Friesian sheep at Everona Dairy in Rapidan, VA and the artisanal sheep’s milk cheeses, which have been chosen “Best in Class” from the American Cheese Society”, are a perfect accompaniment to her farm-made crackers.

Nearby Rob and Violetta Duncan of Dolcezza use local cream for their handmade small-batch artisanal ice cream.  I sampled American Chestnut, Butternut Squash and Bartlett Pear gelato whose ingredients are sourced from area farms.  These velvety smooth Old World style gelati, infused with pure and natural flavorings, would make a spectacular dessert on their own, but coupled with a few lemon tuiles, would be positively indulgent.

From the Farm at Sunnyside in Washington, VA I saw petite lime green Fibonacci spiral cauliflower that beckoned to be steamed and drizzled in browned truffle butter with crispy fried shallot rings.  Snowy white Hakuchi turnips seemed ready for a puree to support slow-braised short ribs.

A dusty blue pickup circa 1950’s framed the coolers around Highfield Dairy where, with a nod from Bernie, a rustic goat cheese and tomato tart with its finger-formed crust suddenly appeared from deep inside its protective container.

Last-of-the-season tomatoes were glistening at the end of the stall belonging to Tree and Leaf Farm in Waterford, VA.   Farmer Zack Lester, whose wife, artist Georgia O’Neill, created their pretty logo, explained, “We use passive solar tunnels to extend the growing season as long as possible.”

There was a bountiful harvest throughout the market, along with bio-dynamic produce from Swiss farmer, Heinz Thomet of Next Step Produce and organic beef, lamb and veal from eighth-generation farmers, Smith Meadows from Berryville, VA, who also make their own pastas and sauces.

Having just scratched the surface, I’ll be back to write more about the local and agriculturally-sustainable organic farms represented at this market and others in the area.

After sampling a deliciously woodsy mushroom empanada from Chris Marketplace I ran into Nora Poullion, whose celebrated Restaurant Nora features organic gourmet cuisine.  Ms. Poullion stopped to say a few words to me about the market she has been championing for so many years.

“This market has changed the entire community,” she offers in her cultured accent.  “It has created a farm-to-market relationship between the farmers and their customers… and people really need this connection to the soil, the earth and their food.”

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