RedApronWashington area farmers’ markets have always offered a wealth of options when you’re looking to pick up fresh produce, local cheeses and even humanely-raised meats.  We’ve even had some vendors take the fruits of others’ labor and turn them into delicious baked goods, soups and gelati.  Anyone who tells you they don’t visit farmers markets because they don’t have time to cook or they want more than just vegetables just isn’t looking hard enough.

Two new vendors who have arrived on the scene this year epitomize the value-added mentality that defines the producer side of “grower/producer only” markets.  Red Apron Butchery, an undertaking by Chef Nathan Anda of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, has emerged as a go-to source for all things cured when it comes to pork and beef.  And Chef Stefano Frigerio’s Copper Pot Food Company is blowing people away with handmade pastas and jams using fresh, local ingredients to create huge flavors.  Here at Capital Spice, we’ve been buying up a variety of products from both of these new ventures over the past few weeks, tasting as we go. 

BresaolaThe verdict in a nutshell?  Wow.  In each case, we’ve found ourselves smiling and shaking our heads as we devour entire packages of bresaola or duck-confit ravioli in one sitting.  If you’ve already tried some of Red Apron’s charcuterie or Copper Pot’s filled pastas, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

If you haven’t tried them yet, read on for descriptions, photos and where to track them down after the jump.

Red Apron Business CardThe reverse of Nathan Anda’s business card – at once traditional and playful – should give you a pretty good idea of the chef’s approach to curing meat.  Chef Anda got people’s attention while at Tallula and EatBar in Arlington, rolling out a wide range of sausages, cured meats like pastrami, and housemade bacons (that’s right – plural).  His creativity earned more than a few followers who were despondent when they heard he was leaving.

They cheered up immediately, however, when he explained that the reason he was leaving was to focus on the meat.  Now he does his own butchering in addition to crafting all of this charcuterie, and his products are put to good use in the kitchens of the various Neighborhood Restaurant Group members (Rustico, Evening Star Cafe, etc.).

LonzaAnd thankfully, he’s also selling direct to the public through a trio of four local farmers’ markets.  You can find Anda at the Crystal Farms Market in Crystal City on Tuesday afternoons (3-7 PM), the FreshFarm Market in Penn Quarter on Thursday afternoons (3-7 PM) and at the Ballston Farmers’ Market on Fridays (11 AM – 3 PM).  <<UPDATE: Anda also sells at the DCGreens Glover Park-Burleith Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from 9 AM to 1 PM.  Thanks for the heads up, Sangeetha!>>

TranslucentSo far, we’ve tasted Red Apron’s bresaola (air-cured beef spiced with juniper berries, cinnamon and cloves), their lonza (pork loin cured with fennel and sea salt) and their chorizo (spicy, dried pork sausage) – we’ve really only begun to scratch the surface of their offerings.  The bresaola was amazing; the flavor of the grass-fed beef is there, but it is complemented wonderfully by the sweeter spices.  The lonza was a revelation – sliced paper-thin, it was translucent when held up in the light of our kitchen.  But the pork loin and its thin ribbon of fat were unmistakable, and the slices practically dissolved on our tongues.  The chorizo is a dried-style offering, similar in external appearance to a pepperoni or a thin salami.  The spices were there (not the least of which was a great smoky paprika), and we found ourselves plotting to find a way to cook up the chorizo that would enhance the flavors of an otherwise sleepy dish.

Favas and BresaolaPrices are generally reasonable for good cured meats, though some of the more marquee items (like the homemade hotdogs) can be a bit pricey.  If you’re looking to add a big hit of flavor to a dish – like we did with the fava beans in the skillet at the right – Anda’s charcuterie is definitely a worthwhile investment.  It’s probably not a good idea to start making charcuterie sandwiches with the slices, but for indulgences this stuff is going to be tough to beat.

Copper Pot Bellini JamAs if we didn’t have enough reasons to love the Penn Quarter Market already, Chef Anda’s charcuterie stall is located just a few tents away from Stefano Frigerio’s Copper Pot Food Company on Thursday afternoons.  Chef Frigerio, who most recently served as the chef at Mio downtown, took some time away from the kitchen to be with his family.  While at home, he began buying up surplus harvests from local farmers and turning the produce into jams and sauces.

It would have been very easy for Chef Frigerio to keep his preserves to himself, doling them out as gifts to friends and loved ones without any pressure to deliver regularly.  Luckily, that wasn’t an option for him.  With a wife in public relations and a house quickly filling up with jars, Frigerio made the decision to launch a commercial venture and sell his products through local farmers’ markets.  What started at one market has quickly expanded to seven throughout Northern Virginia and Washington (14th and U on Saturday mornings, Bloomingdale on Sunday mornings, Fairfax on Tuesday mornings, Vienna/Oakton on Wednesday mornings AND Georgetown on Wednesday afternoons, Herndon on Thursday mornings AND Penn Quarter on Thursday afternoons), and Chef Frigerio is now faced with the unenviable task of trying to keep up with demand.

Ravioli with Spinach SaladCopper Pot Food Company has a surprisingly diverse array of products for such a small enterprise.  They launched with five fruit jams and three tomato-based sauces (Italian cuisine is Frigerio’s specialty) in April, and they have been supplementing these offerings with a range of dried and fresh-made pastas.  The fresh pastas include ravioli, tortellini and other filled varieties with everything from braised rabbit to wild forest mushrooms – using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.

Copper Pot Jam on toastOur first experience with Copper Pot’s products came in the form of a “bellini” inspired jam that blends white peaches with prosecco to make for a sweet, mildly tart jam that was wonderfully thick and fruity.  Most importantly, it received Elizabeth’s stamp of approval (she loves a good bellini and loathes a bad one), which means the flavors were just right.

But even our positive experience with the jam could not have prepared us for our second taste of Copper Pot: duck-confit ravioli.  That’s right – hand-made ravioli filled with a mixture of cheeses and confited duck meat.  The ravioli come frozen with instructions on how to prepare them (a brief bath in simmering water – do not boil).  But we asked Chef Frigerio how he would cook them at home, and his answer was very satisfying.

Duck Confit Ravioli with MushroomsFrigerio encouraged us to remember that eating is “all about respect,” which includes letting the ingredients speak for themselves without overly complicated sauces or accompaniments.  So we decided to take his word for it and prepared our duck-confit ravioli in olive oil with chopped sage, tarragon and thyme.  We also added a few chopped bluefoot mushrooms and let them cook down a bit, as well.  When everything was ready, I added a little bit of chicken stock to the pan to deglaze it and to prevent the ravioli from drying out (no problems there) while we were putting the finishing touches on our favorite salad to go with it.  We were struck by how clearly the duck came through, offering a richness and depth of flavor that was hard to resist.  We’re looking forward to trying one of Frigerio’s jarred tomato sauces next time we see him (smoky bacon?  Late harvest tomato? Or roasted shallots and balsamic?). 

It’s great to see local producers reaching out to growers in the area for the materials to make their delicious finished products.  And it’s even better to see them participating in local farmers’ markets throughout the summer.  They are a terrific addition to the vendors who were already in attendance each week, and they help to spread the word about the markets where they’re working.

What about you?  Any favorites among the vendors at the various marketplaces in town?  Any value-added products you’d like to see for sale at our local markets?