Made in Virginia 2017 Awards

Food winners.

Landcrafted Foods

Smoked Beef Sticks, Grayson County

Inefficiency is a four-letter word to a farmer. So when Gary Mitchell and Brantley Ivy, partners in the grass-fed beef company Grayson Natural Farms, recognized that extra meat left from the fresh beef orders they were filling for restaurants and grocery stores could be used in another product, they got to work. 

The result is a new line of beef sticks the pair launched last summer.

“Tenderloins and ground beef are easy to sell,” says Ivy, a lifelong farmer who holds a degree in animal science and has been in business with Mitchell for about 10 years. “But it’s impossible to sell everything from an animal. These sticks fix all that.”

Available in four flavors—original, sweet, habanero BBQ and spicy Cajun, the smoked sticks are gluten-free and made from 100 percent grass-fed cattle with no added hormones or antibiotics. They are processed at the company’s newly constructed 7,000-foot smokehouse facility in Independence.

“Our mission is quality beef,” says Mitchell, a Virginia Tech-trained civil engineer who left his job to manage the business in 2008. Other meat snack makers often use cheap meat from older dairy cows. At Landcrafted, he explains, “We’re using desirable cuts from younger animals. We make our sticks from whole muscle cuts, even the loin, so it’s a healthy alternative to any meat snack out there.”

Smoky and chewy, toothsome and tender, each of the four flavors hit their target note. That’s because it takes time, and money, to raise beef of this quality. “For us,” says Ivy,  “it takes about two years to finish to our standards”—about twice as long as it takes to finish grain-fed animals. 

But Mitchell and Ivy’s mission includes more than producing a great product: they hope to impact the local economy by establishing a value-added market that will support the region’s fast-disappearing family farms. All the cattle the company sources are born and raised in Grayson County pastures. “We want to return more dollars to local farms,” explains Ivy. “That’s how Grayson Natural Farms started.” $2.49 each.

Happy Family Ranch, Inc.

Grass-Fed Beef & Pork, Midland

When it comes to business, Roberto Melendez believes in “going with every  angle.” So when the young Northern Virginia general contractor saw a 123-acre farm for sale in Fauquier County, it seemed like a good investment. “I knew nothing about farming,” says Melendez with a laugh. “But I bought my parents a pair of goats I found on Craigslist to keep at the farm, and my father was inspired. He decided to add some hogs, and so we sort of stumbled into farming.” Melendez and his parents Juan and Maria Pineda now operate Happy Family Ranch, which has grown from two goats and a few hogs to 130 beef cattle, 100 hogs and almost 25 sheep. Included in their herds are prized Wagyu Japanese cattle and heritage Hungarian hogs, both sought after for their higher fat content and rich flavor. They specialize in grass-fed, pasture raised, non-GMO beef and pork products including chorizo-curry sausage, kielbasa and some smoked flavors that have found quite a fan following from sales via Amazon Fresh and in local farmers markets. “Our family is passionate about food,” says Melendez. “We learned by trial and error, and that has made all the difference.” Steaks start at $10 per pound, pork cuts start at $5.50 per pound.

Northern Neck Popcorn Bag

Salted Dark Chocolate Caramel Popcorn, Kilmarnock

Seesawing between sweet and salty, the caramelization in this salted dark chocolate caramel popcorn is lighter than in most recipes, creating a pleasant balance with the underlying salt flavor of the popcorn itself. A mild drizzle of dark chocolate adds an extra dimension of bittersweet flavor, rounding out each mouthful with a bold finish.

“We make everything in house,” says owner Terri Crowder, who with husband Kevin opened their store less than a year ago. “We pop the corn, we melt the chocolate. The caramel is real caramel, made with real butter.” While the salted dark chocolate caramel is the most popular of this fledgling confectionery’s flavors, it is just one of more than 50 seasonally rotating blends on offer. Fall and winter favorites include caramel apple, ginger snap, gingerbread, peppermint mocha, and a chocolate green-mint special called the Grinch. “People love popcorn,” Crowder says, “and I love it because I have the opportunity to cook something that is fun and creative.” $5-$40, priced by size.

Simply Cheddar

Simply Cheddar Cheese Ball, Waynesboro 

Meet your new party favorite. Handcrafted with extra sharp cheddar cheeses, Simply Cheddar’s pecan-encrusted cheese ball does not contain any cream cheese or processed cheese fillers, just a little freshly grated onion and a touch of red pepper flake to add some spice. Entrepreneur Linda Weaver says she created her signature cheese ball by happy accident when she was working for the now-closed Unicorn Winery in Northern Virginia between 2003 and 2004. “I made it as part of a buffet for their open houses,” says Weaver. “The customers liked it so much, they wanted to buy some to take home. It evolved from there.” Today, more than 35 wineries, wine shops and other gourmet food vendors statewide carry her cheese balls. Weaver also ships individual balls in several sizes and offers gift boxes throughout the year. But watch out, once you take a bite you might get hooked. Says Weaver, “Customers are addicted to it. They always tell me that when they take it to an event, it disappears in minutes.” Prices start at $9.

See all of our Made in Virginia 2017 Award winners!

Nightingale Ice Cream, Richmond

Ragged Branch, Charlottesville (category winner)
Dead Reckoning Distillery, Norfolk
Veritas Vineyards & Winery, Afton
Trussings Craft Fizz, Midlothian

Daniel Rickey Furniture, Richmond (category winner)
Gum Tree Farm, Middleburg
Evolution Glass, Charlottesville

Heart and Spade Forge, Roanoke (category winner)
Ledbury, Richmond
LC Fabrications, Grottoes
Yak Attack, Burkeville

Winners were selected by the editors from among hundreds of submissions received earlier this year.

Click here to see 2018 winners.
Click here to see 2016 winners.
Click here to see 2015 winners.
Click here to see 2014 winners.
Click here to see 2013 winners.
Click here to see 2012 winners.
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