2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Artisan Benjamin Thompson of The Rock Barn

2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Artisan Benjamin Thompson of The Rock Barn
December 2o14

The Rock Barn
2387 Oak Ridge Road
Arrington, VA 22922



Benjamin Thompson grew up in landlocked Colorado Springs, Colorado. He joined the United State Navy in 2000 to become a ship’s cook aboard the USS HAMPTON, during which time his deployment exposed him to cuisine everywhere from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean. Onboard the Hampton, Thompson learned that food on the submarine was critical to crew morale, and that the act of eating together was integral to fostering fellowship within the community.

After five years of service, Thompson married, Reagan Holland, and began working in Charlottesville, Virginia, at Oxo Restaurant. Thompson and Holland eventually left Charlottesville to move to New York, where Thompson attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Graduating at the top of his class with an award for “Excellence through Leadership,” Thompson was able to secure an externship at Thomas Keller's Per Se. His success led him to a position at The French Laundry in Napa Valley.

In 2009, Thompson and Holland moved from California to Nelson County, Virginia, where they founded The Rock Barn. There, they work with a local farmer co-op to raise hogs specifically for and exclusive to The Rock Barn, and provide their quality fresh, smoked, and prepared meats to local restaurants, at farmers market, at their retail shop, and through their paradigm shifting Porkshare program.

I Support: Nelson County Pantry


Why: Our community is important to us and we speak with them through food.

Interview with Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Artisan Benjamin Thompson of Rock Barn

Meha Desai: How did you perfect the charcuterie at The Rock Barn?
Benjamin Thompson:
We asked a lot of questions. We reached out. We kept trying and trying until we got the perfect product. I don’t mind reaching out to big meat corporations. You don’t have to replicate what they do, but they have a high database of stuff. That’s lots of knowledge, right there. We sent it out to people to get feedback. We sent a lot of free stuff, about 40 products. In meat production, you really learn the demographics. We work with some businesses like Relay Foods to help with distribution. We work with local food hubs. My spice guy helps me a lot. We bridge the gap between craft and manufacturing. 

MD: There’s a buzz about your Porkshare. What’s it about?
For the Pork Share, you pay $80 a month, and you get about eight to10 pounds, proportionate to the whole hog yield, with no commitments and no penalties. It’s a great place to do product releases and get feedback. It’s one of the unique things we do. The master roster has 175 people, but not everyone does it every month. Our offerings change each month, with a recipe that accompanies it. 

MD: What makes The Rock Barn different?
We use fresh stuff in our sausages, and we do products in small batches so our inspectors are always surprised. The challenge is developing the paperwork. We do everything they want. We started as a state facility. Now federal guys are around. They’re great guys. When the holidays come around, they buy this stuff. They love our product. 

MD: What's your five-year plan?
Moving to a bigger space down the road. We’ll move everything from here to there, the butchering as well. It’s turning out to be an artisanal industry park. It’ll have a hospitality front to it. The name is SHARE, and the philosophy is to just embrace honest food and where it comes from and be approachable. It will not be geared toward yoga moms. It’s not meant to be a trendy idea, but more of an evergreen concept. We’re bringing in beef, as well, and we started to work on that already. Right now we’re at the beginning stages of doing all-American full-blooded wagyu. It’s what we’ve been working on with the herd for about five years already.