Taste of Rockbridge County, Virginia
Savor local foods and drinks produced in the southern gateway to the Shenandoah Valley.
Written by Hope S. Philbrick, editor Foodie Travel USA.
It’s easy to find local foods and drinks on menus throughout Rockbridge County, Virginia, but you can also skip the middleman and go straight to the source. Get out and visit some local producers, from modern farms to historic mills, coffee roasters to craft breweries, cheesemakers to chocolatiers, and you’ll discover award-winning, crave-inducing items so high quality they make even the most refined taste buds swoon.
At Razzbourne Farms Emily Hall operates what she describes as “a micro goat dairy and creamery.” From her small herd of La Mancha and Alpine goats she handcrafts goat cheese with delicate, melt-in-your-mouth flavors. A fourth-generation farmer, Hall has honed cheese recipes through what she calls “trial and error.” She currently produces one fresh, three ripened and one aged cheese. Among the addictive varieties: a spreadable chèvre, a ripened bloomy rind goat cheese with locally-grown truffles, and a semi-hard raw goat cheese bathed in Rockbridge Vineyard Syrah. The farm isn’t currently open to the public, but you can find Razzbourne Farms cheeses on the menu at Southern Inn Restaurant in downtown Lexington and for sale at Rockbridge Vineyard and Cattlemen’s Market.
Wade’s Mill is the oldest continuously-operating commercial grist mill in the Shenandoah Valley. Local grains have been stone-ground the traditional way at this site since 1750. No wonder it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. “Until steam, the mill was the most efficient energy source,” says John Siegfried, owner and miller. He grinds an average of 300 to 400 pounds of grain a day and supplies restaurants in Lexington and other cities in Virginia and Maryland. Grits, cornmeal, flour and other treats—many made of heritage grains—are available for purchase. Explore three floors of historic milling equipment and museum displays. On Saturdays at select times from April through December, the historic 21-foot iron Fitz overshot water wheel is demonstrated. To linger at this picturesque site, check into the overnight accommodations.
Lexington Coffee Roasters has been named one of the “12 Best Coffee Roasters in the U.S.” by Forbes and “Some of America’s Best Coffee” by USA Today. Its focus is on sourcing top-quality beans from Latin America and Africa. “Everything is super fresh,” says Chris Flitney, barista. “We emphasize fresh to get fruit flavors.” Visit the roastery on Route 11 to see the coffee roasting process, learn about coffee growing and harvesting on a self-guided tour, discover innovative brewing processes, and sip coffee and espresso drinks. Order a tasting flight to sample three different single-origin coffees side-by-side. Take home some freshly roasted coffee beans and order online when your supply runs low.
Craft beers flow in abundance in Rockbridge County. On Route 11, Devils Backbone Outpost Tap Room & Kitchen produces more than 120 different beer recipes, all based on European brewing traditions. Tours of the 120-barrel, fully-automated brewhouse plus bottling and canning lines are offered on Saturday afternoons. Up to 15 different beers are poured. Enjoy a pint or sampler flight alongside hearty fare at the bar or in the outdoor beer garden. Great Valley Farm Brewery produces Belgian-style ales using ingredients from its 27-acre farm in Natural Bridge. Sip pints or tasting flights against panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With styles ranging from IPAs, English ales and German lagers, the tap list of eight changes weekly. Production will expand to include wine in 2020. At its brand new facility in downtown Lexington, Heliotrope Brewery, produces what co-owner Erik Jones calls “wild farmhouse beers” using local ingredients. “We even foraged a wild yeast to give the beer terroir.” The beer lineup will change seasonally and cover a range of styles including IPAs, saisons, pilsners, and lagers among others. Sip a 12-ounce pour from a stemmed glass alongside a creative pizza, made to order in the brick oven.
Prefer wine? Rockbridge County boasts three vineyards and a fourth is set to open in 2020 at Great Valley Farm. Rockbridge Vineyard, a two-time winner of the coveted Virginia Governor’s Cup, produces small-batch wines in a range of styles. Vinifera, hybrid, and native vines grow on 17 acres. Sample through the portfolio in the tasting room then enjoy a glass of your favorite while gazing out at the breathtaking view of Shenandoah Valley. A new brewery will open on site in 2020. Lexington Valley Vineyard has been handcrafting red and white wines since 1999. Enjoy them by the glass or bottle while relaxing on the deck and gazing out at the 67-acre property. Light snacks are available or feel free to bring your own. Jump Mountain Vineyard welcomes visitors to its 32-acre farm on Saturdays and Sundays. Enjoy tastings, wines by the glass, or stock up on several bottles of red and white varietals to savor at home.
Sip small batch cider at Halcyon Days Cider Company. This family-owned cidery boasts a stunning labyrinth orchard. Inspired by the legendary labyrinth at France’s Chartres Cathedral, 2,500 dwarf apple trees are planted in a circuit that stretches 1.7 miles from the center to outer edge. As the trees grow, they’ll be groomed to form walls. Wander through 50 different apple varieties, from heirloom American, modern American, classic Europe, and Central Asian ancestral apple trees. Step into the pavilion for stunning 360-degree views of the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains. All eight hard ciders are made using Virginia grown apples—many of which are heirloom varieties—in a range of styles from tangy to spicy to sweet.
Cocoa Mill Chocolates has gained a national reputation for its indelible treats, all made using fair trade chocolate. Even if you’ve never tasted its deliciousness, you may have heard about Cocoa Mill since it’s racked up awards and accolades from The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, Chocolatier, U.S. Air Magazine, CBS Morning News, The Washington Post, Virginia Living Magazine, Virginia’s Finest, and WDBJ7 News among others. Owner Laura de Maria strives for excellence each step of the process, from choosing authentic, fresh, natural ingredients to freshly hand-crafting confections for each order. Whether you bite into a truffle, gourmet bark, dipped fruit, chocolate-covered pretzel or peppermint, nonpareil, or other treat, trust that it’s made with high-quality ingredients and attentive precision.
Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe is Rockbridge County’s only homemade ice cream shop. Its retro décor may spark nostalgia, but its now-antique equipment churns out treats that modern equipment can’t replicate—including homemade waffle cones. “We’ve been in business since 1982, but our waffle irons date back to the 1950s,” says owner Chris Williams. “New waffle irons are all Teflon, but these produce a different aroma.” And that aroma will get your mouth watering the moment you step into the door. The best-selling Oreo cookie flavor ice cream is dark brown, not the usual white, thanks to the fact that this ice cream machine can crunch and crumble a whole lot more cookies than modern machines. Flavors like mint chocolate chip, cookie dough, banana, black raspberry, and dozens more—scooped into cones, sundaes, shakes, and other treats—lure locals and visitors alike. Grownups, don’t miss the Guinness beer-flavored ice cream. Time your visit right and you can find special flavors made featuring local ingredients like beer, berries, ginger, and more.
Crave more to taste? Check out the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail that features 15 breweries located within an easy hour’s drive of one another. Pick up a free trail passport at any stop, collect eight stamps, and earn a free T-shirt. On Shenandoah Valley’s Fields of Gold Farm Trail you can dig into agricultural experiences like pick-your-own orchards, farmers’ markets, farm tours, and farm-to-table restaurants.
Come taste our local definition of yum.
For help planning your visit to Rockbridge County, Virginia, explore www.lexingtonvirginia.com and www.rockbridgeoutdoors.com, or call 540-463-3777. When you arrive, find the Visitor Center at 106 E. Washington St.