Spice of Life

Virginia Chutney Co. sells the traditional sauce. 

Chutney

“There’s nothing better on pork loin than a spoonful of spicy plum chutney,” says Oliver Turner. “It gives it the right bite and flavor.” He would know. As the head of marketing for the family-run Virginia Chutney Company in Rappahannock County, Turner is an expert on chutney, the fruit- and vegetable-based sauces, often spicy, that were part of traditional Indian food before being adopted by the English and spreading throughout the British Empire.

In the American South, its character changed to reflect local food and customs. “There were many recipes in English and American cookbooks for chutneys by the end of the 19th century,” says food historian Andrew F. Smith.

     Turner’s parents, Clare and Nevill, discovered Southern chutneys firsthand upon moving to Virginia in 1982. Clare was raised in East Africa, Nevill in England, and they met while living in the Caribbean, so they were no strangers to chutney. But the chutneys here were strikingly different from the Indian chutneys made to accompany curries. So, starting with an aunt’s recipes, Clare began to experiment. Ultimately, she came up with a range of traditional chutneys that complement U.S. mainstays—fish, pork, chicken and cheese. The Virginia Chutney Co. was born.

      Launched in 2004, the firm first sold its products at local gourmet shops and festivals. But before long, larger retailers, including Whole Foods and The Fresh Market, were selling their chutneys. Now the firm is preparing to expand distribution throughout Virginia and even to the West Coast.

     So how do you use chutney? “There are no rules,” Oliver Turner says. Use it for everything from glazing a roast to livening up grilled chicken. “Our chutney is a concentrated reduction, so a little goes a long way.”

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