If you’ve ever been to a you-pick strawberry farm, you’ve surely seen children who have more strawberry on their faces than in their buckets.
“That was me as a kid,” grins Adam Dillard, a 33-year-old Raleigh native who still can’t resist the plump red orbs. “One for the bucket, two for my mouth.”
Dillard’s love of strawberries led him to create an artisan condiment company, Berry Brothers. He launched the brand in 2015 with Strawberry Rosemary Vinaigrette, followed by Strawberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce. Both are made with fresh berries sourced from the Faison and Wallace areas of Eastern North Carolina.
Dillard has since expanded the Berry Brothers line by adding a Blueberry BBQ Sauce and two dry-rub spice blends. Goods are produced at Bobbees Bottling in Louisburg and sold at Triangle-area Lowes Foods and Fresh Market stores, as well as several specialty food and gift shops.
In addition to providing an outlet for his culinary creativity, Berry Brothers serves as a way for Dillard to honor a friend who died unexpectedly several years ago.
“I feel like he’s the power behind this,” Dillard says of the friend, who he considered like a brother since childhood. “I was hundreds of miles away when it happened, and I just didn’t understand it. I felt like there was a message, something I needed to do.”
Dillard donates what he considers his friend’s share of business proceeds annually to animal rescue groups in tribute to the man’s lifelong support of such causes.
Dillard grew up appreciating the vibrancy of fresh fruit and vegetables grown on his grandfather’s New Hill farm. Influenced by the gourmet cuisine prepared by his stepfather, Steven Vagasky of My Chef Catering in Apex, he began to appreciate how herbs and spices could elevate simple ingredients to make truly memorable meals.
He applied this knowledge in the years he spent working in Triangle kitchens and behind the bar at several local watering holes. But when it came time to choose a career, Dillard opted to study music and sound engineering. He landed a job at a Nashville studio, recording projects for several big name acts.
He loved the work and the city, but when a family member was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, Dillard packed his bags and returned to the Triangle. He intended to continue working in music, but he quickly found himself immersed in Raleigh’s fast-growing food scene. In addition to Berry Brothers, he operates Local Food Bar Catering.
“The whole plan was a bigger picture than I could see that day,” says Dillard, who relied on his strong religious faith to guide him. “At the time, I thought I was giving up on my education, all I did to fight for my position in a great studio, but family brought me home. So many good things followed.”
The chef-entrepreneur soon met and fell in love with the woman who is now his wife. His mother helps him offer product samples at stores and major events, like the Got to Be NC Festival at the State Fairgrounds May 18-20. And his stepfather continues to be a sounding board for product development.
Dillard currently is working on another fruit-based vinaigrette with a Triangle collaborator and traditional barbecue sauces in both Eastern and Western North Carolina styles. He often test-markets new products with catering customers.
“It’s the best, most honest feedback you can ask for,” he says. “With the original vinaigrette, people say they love to see strawberry seeds and flecks of rosemary in the bottle. They appreciate that ingredients are real, that it’s not full of fructose, and that the flavors are not what you come across every day at the grocery store.”
While delicious on crisp salad greens, Dillard says his favorite use of the dressing is in an orzo salad. He created the recipe for a customer who specified no dairy, eggs or mayonnaise in a picnic-inspired menu. During peak strawberry season, he suggests added diced berries just before serving. “If you add them too soon,” he warns, “it will make the pasta turn pink.”
Customers have shared favorite ways of using his products, like the one who raved about brushing the Strawberry Chipotle BBQ Sauce on shrimp kabobs. Dillard’s own favorite use is in a meatloaf created by his wife. They were out of ketchup so she quietly substituted the sauce.
“I didn’t know she did that and didn’t recognize it right away,” Dillard says. “It turned a good meatloaf into an amazing meatloaf.”
Jill Warren Lucas is a Raleigh freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @jwlucasnc.
▪ Learn more about Berry Brothers and where it’s sold at berrybrothers.biz.
▪ Berry Brothers is among the dozens of artisan food producers who will be at the Got to Be NC Festival, May 18-20 at the State Fairgrounds, 1025 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh. The event also includes a carnival, pony rides, fireworks and other family-friendly activities. For information on the event, go to gottobencfestival.com.
Orzo Pasta Salad
Courtesy of Adam Dillard
1 pound orzo (or other small pasta)
2/3 cup Berry Brothers Strawberry Rosemary Vinaigrette
1 cup cucumber, seeded and diced
1 cup tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup feta or goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup strawberries, diced (optional)
Boil orzo in salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water. Transfer pasta to a bowl, adding all ingredients except strawberries, if using. Stir well to combine, then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Just before serving, gently mix in strawberries. Taste to see if seasoning needs to be adjusted, or if salad needs another splash of dressing.
Strawberry Chipotle Meatloaf
Courtesy of Adam Dillard
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup Berry Brothers Strawberry Chipotle BBQ sauce, divided
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients, including 1/2 cup barbecue sauce, in a bowl and mix well. Lightly press mixture into an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan. Bake for 40 minutes.
Remove meatloaf from oven and add remaining sauce to the top, spreading to cover. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until internal temperature of the meat is 160 degrees. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.