Made in Virginia 2014: Rappahannock River Oysters, Topping

Rappahannock River Oysters

Photo by Tyler Darden  

The idea was hatched, as many profitable endeavors are, over a few brews between bros. And in about the same time it takes to slurp down a dozen bivalves, cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton had committed to resurrect the oyster company started by their great-grandfather in 1899.

Theirs is the fabled meteoric ascent: Within two years of Rappahannock Oyster Co.’s 2002 revival, the Croxton boys were wowing celebrity restaurateurs in Vegas and playing to tough crowds at the most discerning establishments, like Le Bernardin in New York. Just a year into it, the guys won Food & Wine magazine’s Tastemaker Award.

Their mission statement is simple: Put the Chesapeake Bay oyster back on the map. They’re doing it by producing oysters that are consistently good, consistently available. They ensure availability through a farming process (seeding shucked shells from their restaurants with oyster larvae) that is faster than nature in growing oysters to maturity. And to ensure consistency of quality, their oysters feed in the algae-rich Bay waters until they’re ready to ship or to serve.

RRO produces three kinds of oysters with varying degrees of salinity: the original sweet and buttery Rappahannock River variety; the slightly saltier Stingrays; and the boldly briny Olde Salts. (Tip: RRO’s mignonette sauce of vinegar, shallots, pepper and mild fish sauce is a stellar enhancement for all three.)

Its wholesale and retail operations are growing. In fairly rapid succession, they opened Merroir, their baithouse-turned-tasting shack located steps away from their waterfront offices, and restaurants Rappahannock in Richmond and Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Washington, D.C. But rapid expansion isn’t the goal; quality is. “We’re hyper-focused on perfecting the art of oyster culture,” says Ryan.

Mission accomplished. $1 per oyster (sold in increments of 25).

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Glass House Winery, Free Union

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Tad Coffin Saddles, Ruckersville

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