Kampot pepper’s sweet comeback

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Kampot pepper farm near Kep, Cambodia

The slightly sweet, eucalyptus taste of Kampot pepper made it the darling of Parisian chefs at the turn of the 20th century, and for more than fifty years, Cambodian peppercorn exports thrived. Fast-forward to the 1970s, when, in four short years, the industry was completely destroyed under the Khmer Rouge. Production and exports languished for the next thirty years.

Today, pepper farms along the coastal plain between Kampot and Kep are once again on the up-tick, their products tickling the palates of a new niche market. There are just a handful of distributors of the spice, and in April I visited one of them, Farmlink. Its Kadodé (“a gift from the earth” in Khmer) brand peppercorns are sourced from 120 family farms, and sold through distributors in Europe and North America.

Jerome Benezech, director of FarmLink, says the farmers supplying him with black, red and white peppercorns meet high quality standards, and in return receive a fair price for their product. Kampot has a long way to go to match the 17 million pounds of product it exported a century ago, but according to Mr. Benezech, Farmlink’s suppliers are now exporting all the peppercorns they can produce. The focus today is on improving productivity while maintaining quality.

Kampot peppers are known for a delicate aroma and pugnacious flavor, which connoisseurs credit to careful attention to production methods and grading for quality. During harvest season Farmlink employees sift through individual batches of peppercorns by hand, carefully selecting out those with evidence of mold or other imperfections.

Kampot’s microclimate is ideal for growing pepper, and cultivation techniques used here have been passed down for generations. In April, Farmlink supplier Bolyet showed me around his plot of land, a small plantation covering a portion of the family’s two hectares of farmland. His vines, twining upward around deadwood poles, were laden with green peppercorns. Bolyet’s family of nine lives off farming, growing rice for their own use and mangos, jackfruit, peanuts, winter melons and pumpkin for sale at local markets. And of course the peppercorns, which Bolyet is pleased to sell through Farmlink, citing the distributor’s fair-trade policies.

Every packet of Kodadé pepper is labeled with a code identifying the farmer who produced the contents. To see who grew my bag of black peppercorns, go to the Farmlink website’s traceability page and enter the seven-digit code above and click “Find my farmer”.

A rather cool twist on farm-to-table sourcing!

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This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesday at Wanderlust and Lipstick. 

 

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Jessie V: Thanks. The photos just skim the surface, and cannot fully capture the aromas and tropical atmosphere of a visit to Kampot.

    Carolyn: Some people liken the taste of Kampot pepper to eucalyptus; for sure, the freshly ground peppercorns are piquant and add zip to just about any dish.

    wanderingoff: I favor local sourcing, but that is not possible for spices such as peppercorns. It was indeed a treat to meet one of the farmers supplying my table.

  2. Farmlink is a great concept! For those who would like to meet their pepper grower in person and learn more about how Cambodian’s are putting their lives together after the Khmer Rouge madness please check out Friendship with Cambodia’s study tour set for Dec. 30, 2013-January 11, 2014. http://www.friendshipwithcambodia.org I always bring home a kilo of Kampot’s finest to share with friends–it is better pepper!

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