We were interviewed recently by Food Pacific Manufacturing Journal, an Internet publication specializing in regional food trade affairs.
You can read the properly formatted interview with pictures in its entirety published in the interactive magazine here. Otherwise, see below for the excerpted version. Enjoy!
Spicing up the food chain
Long Pepper is known for its medicinal benefits including improving appetite and digestion, as well as relieving insomnia and headache. Kiri Farms’s proprietor Steve Merger, however, is raising awareness for its culinary value in Cambodia and beyond. He speaks to Food Pacific Manufacturing Journal about long pepper’s unique flavor and uses, and his company’s efforts to grow its popularity and reach.
How long has Kiri Farms been in existence and where exactly is it located?
Kiri Farms is a family owned and operated pepper farm in Kirivong District, Takeo Province, Cambodia. We are six kilometers from the Kampot border, a province internationally recognized for producing the best pepper in the world. Our first trees were planted 20 years ago, and that crop is still going strong. However, about half of the living crop today was seeded within the last five years.
What makes it ideal to grow long pepper in Cambodia?
Climate and soil. Every rainy season, the small mountains that dot this region replenish the soil at their bases with the kind of minerals most conducive to growing great pepper. That is why you find pepper farms such as ours hiding away in foothills.
How is long pepper different from black pepper? What are its main uses and benefits?
Long pepper's flavor is more complex. Using our imagination to describe it, start with the familiar flavor of round pepper and temper the sting. Long pepper will not overwhelm you. Now add the sweet and floral qualities that distinguish Kampot pepper, but in greater measure. Long pepper is more citrusy than round pepper, especially when eaten fresh, and it leaves a cool finish on your tongue. Notes of cinnamon and nutmeg put the finishing touch on a totally unique and under-appreciated spice. Surprisingly, in spite of its complexity, long pepper maintains the universal applicability of your average table-top pepper.
The fresh green long pepper can be chopped up and used in stir-fried dishes. It can be pureed or minced for inclusion in meat sauces, vegetable dips or salad dressings. Whole dried catkins meanwhile, can be used in marinades and roasts. They can be used in vegetable pickling or allowed to steep in soups.
Long pepper is also used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. It is said to improve appetite and digestion, as well as treat a catalog of stomach and intestinal issues.
What variety of long pepper does Kiri Farms produce?
Piper Retrofractum is the long pepper species that we grow, a cousin to the more common round pepper species, Piper Nigrum, which we also grow at Kiri Farms.
Could you tell us about the farming method you employ? How does this contribute to the quality of yield?
The farming method we use is traditional agriculture, which is labor intensive. Currently, no machines are (or have been) used for cultivation, maintenance, harvesting, sorting, etc. Even tilling the soil is done with hoes.
New trees are produced from cuttings of old ones. The vines climb up wooden poles with about three meters of exposure above ground. Harvesting occurs for about six months of the year coinciding approximately with the rainy season, from August until February. We tap the well-water on our property during stretches of no rain. Cow manure is used to fertilize the plants once or twice a year, and earth from nearer the mountain is used to replenish the soil at least annually as well. This is not a small task since the earth must be manually collected using buckets and then carried to the farm.
What about the harvesting, drying and processing methods employed?
Harvesting is straightforward. Long pepper spikes are individually hand-picked off the vine and readied for drying.
Fresh pepper spikes are blanched before being spread out on nets to be dried in the sun. It takes about five days of full sunlight for them to completely dry.
A portion of the crop is shipped to Phnom Penh for further processing where it is milled and bottled to be sold in retail form. This is done at our cafe, where we serve dishes prepared with the long pepper products we sell.
Where and how do you currently market your products?
There is a farmer's market in Phnom Penh held weekly at Farm to Table. That has been a good opportunity for us to gain some exposure locally. Unlike black pepper, the uses of which are universally understood, long pepper is a virtually unknown spice at the moment, so we are faced with the challenge of educating our potential customers. The farmer's market is well-attended and gives us an enjoyable setting in which to do that.
The bulk of our sales goes to middlemen who trawl the neighborhood farms to fill large orders as they come in from China and Vietnam. Many tons of pepper are annually hauled off the farms in our district and exported to companies in those countries who mostly process it for consumption as Chinese medicine. Additionally, a portion of our annual sales makes its way to Kampot pepper merchants, who use more rigorous processing and packaging methods before exporting it as a spice.
Our products are likewise available on eBay and Etsy in the US.
We hope to extend our reach to Germany and are currently working with an agent to fulfill orders for some 500kg of pepper. Ultimately we want to work directly with international customers as we are wholly capable of filling orders ourselves from a technical, procedural and logistical standpoint.
In what forms can buyers order your long pepper? Do they carry the Kiri Farms brand?
Our long pepper comes in four forms. For whole pepper, we have both the fresh, green and red spikes, and the sun-dried spikes. We likewise have the milled (coarse) type and the finely ground.
Our retail products sold in glass jars carry the Kiri Farms branding. The rest are packaged and branded to customer’s preference.
Is there a minimum order that you require?
No. Small retail orders can be filled from our staging points in Australia, the US and the UK.
What is the turn-around time for delivery?
This depends on the location of the buyer, whether the product is in stock or in season, and other logistical factors.
Company: Kiri Farms
A: #5D, Street 360
Sangkat Boeung Keng Kang 3, Khan Chamkarmon
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
T: +855 (0) 92 664 557
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