Virginia is famous for a number of foods and beverages, many of which date back to the earliest settlers arriving from Europe. Whether you’re a Virginia native or just visiting the Commonwealth, be sure to try some of these Virginia favorites.
- Chesapeake Bay blue crab
- Virginia oysters
- Maple syrup
- Smithfield ham
- Brunswick stew
- Virginia wine
Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab
Blue crab from the Chesapeake Bay is one of the most distinctive Virginia foods. People come from miles around to sample fresh blue crab in the Chesapeake Bay region, and crabbing is a staple of the Tidewater economy.
In years past, there has been a shortage of blue crabs, but environmental preservation and sustainable harvesting efforts have allowed the population to make a comeback. That’s good news for all the blue crab lovers out there.
Another gift of the Chesapeake Bay are its delicious oysters. In fact, Virginia has been called the oyster capital of the East Coast. Oysters thrive in several different areas of the Bay, and have distinct flavors depending on where they are harvested.
There are a number of festivals celebrating this Virginia delicacy. Try the Urbanna Oyster Festival or the Chincoteague Oyster Festival, both held in the fall. Or check out this listing of oyster festivals to find one that suits your schedule.
To find all things Virginia oyster-related, try the Virginia Oyster Trail.
Virginia peanut growing can be traced back to the earliest European settlers to the region. Peanuts originated in South America and arrived in North America via a circuitous route through Europe. The first commercial peanut crops were grown in Sussex County in the 1840s.
Today, Virginia is known for its large, flavorful peanuts. Several popular peanut companies are based in Virginia, with crops mainly in the southeast area of the Commonwealth.
Virginia may not be the first place you think of when you think of maple syrup, but we actually have some of the best around. Virginia maple syrup comes from sugar camps in Highland County, located deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In fact, the county hosts an annual Maple Festival that draws thousands of visitors to the area.
Sugar camps like Puffenbarger’s Sugar Orchard and Rexrode’s Sugar Orchard produce genuine Virginia maple syrup that you have to try to believe. Many of the sugar camps also offer tours during the Maple Festival so that visitors can see the process firsthand.
Virginia ham is another food that dates back to the early settlers. Smithfield ham in particular, is known for its distinctive, salty flavor. That’s because these hams are dry cured with salt, a practice that was originally used to preserve meat before refrigeration existed.
Virginia hams proved popular with Europeans and became a significant source of trade for the colonists. Some people believe that the ham has a distinctive flavor due to the hogs eating Virginia peanuts.
Although salt curing is no longer necessary to keep meat from spoiling, the flavor is a perennial favorite. Try it with that delicious southern staple: the ham biscuit.
This thick and savory stew is enjoyed in many southeastern states. There are several regional variations using different meats. While the historical dish may have used rabbit or other small game meat, today’s Virginia Brunswick stew is usually made with chicken.
Although several areas claim to be the birthplace of Brunswick stew, there is some convincing historical evidence that the dish originated in Brunswick County, Virginia in the early 19th century. This stew may have also had its roots in Native American dishes from the same area.
Brunswick stew has a tomato base, and its key ingredients are chicken, corn, lima beans, and potatoes. There are many variants of the recipe, with some families passing their recipes down through generations.
Many restaurants in Virginia have their own take on Brunswick stew, often as a seasonal special. If you really want to get the full experience, you can visit the Taste of Brunswick Festival in Alberta, Virginia. This festival is fun for the whole family, and the main event is a Brunswick stew competition with stewmasters from all over Virginia (and beyond) offering their take on the southern classic.
There are a plethora of vineyards and wineries in northern and central Virginia. While not as well known as California, Virginia has made a name for itself in the wine industry. A wide variety of unique flavors make Virginia wines a must-try local favorite. Like many of Virginia’s traditional foods and beverages, Virginia winemaking dates back to the earliest European settlers to the region.
Today, Virginia boasts more than 250 wineries. You can experience Virginia wine in a number of ways. Of course, you can always take a casual day trip to one or two wineries for tastings.
For a more structured experience, and perhaps a short vacation, you can try one of Virginia’s wine trails. Wine trails give you a more structured experience to make sure you get a taste of the best and most interesting wines in a given region.
If you prefer “one stop shopping” for your Virginia wine, there are a number of wine festivals that take place throughout the year. At a festival, you’ll be able to taste wines from a number of different wineries all in one convenient location.
Always be sure to have a designated driver for your wine tasting excursions.
The Shenandoah Valley area is famous for its apples. In fact, Virginia is one of the top six apple producers in the country. Many different varieties of apples thrive in Virginia. The state’s many orchards grow popular standards such as Golden Delicious and Gala apples as well as more niche varieties like the Jonagold and Cripps Pink.
You and your family might enjoy one of the apple picking events held at many Virginia orchards. Also look for Virginia apples at your local farmers market or locally owned grocery store.
What are your favorite Virginia foods? Don’t forget to like and share!