My good friend Linda Duffin has been writing in the Huffington Post about a little gift of ours that she used in one of her mouth-watering recipes…
It’s Cambodian pepper - from Kampot in the South - which used to be the pepper of choice for the richest households and best restaurants of France
Grown at scale since the 13th century, at its height 8,000 tonnes were produced annually, a huge earner for Cambodia.
That declined when the French were kicked out, but it was the Year Zero ideas of Pol Pot which did for pepper production. He wanted rice, not spice, and distrusted professional farmers and merchants - who were tortured and murdered by the thousands.
So, even today, Kampot only produces 60 tonnes - although that’s doubled in the last 12 months.
Getting Geographical Indication status (like Champagne or Parmesan cheese) has helped, boosting value by as much as 10%. Black pepper will fetch between 10-15 dollars a kilogram. But overall demand is sluggish still.
And it’s labour intensive… You actually have to comb the individual peppers from their vine, plus sort and dry them by hand, under the scorching sun.
Even starting off seems to be the activity of the committed or the wealthy : especially international companies who can afford the 20-50 thousand dollars per hectare investment costs.
So this is an industry which is barely starting to get off its knees, in truth, but the quiet enthusiasm of the farmers is infectious. So if you ever come across it, give it a go.