Spicy cheese. We all love it, even the most standard of pepper jack. Peppers and cheese are made to be paired together. Identifying high quality pepper is similar to identifying high quality cheese and wine. The ingredients must be fresh, the climate impacts the complex flavor of the food, and the process is a methodology and a ritual. These practices result in an exciting and flavorful pepper that is dynamic when pairing with cheese.
During the month of July, Pepper Crush, a Brooklyn-based company focused on sourcing the highest quality Turkish pepper varietals, will be offering a special package to Cheese Grotto owners. Founders Elif, Deborah, and Josh ship these dried pepper varietals directly to your doorstep.
The pepper paste is similar to a sun-dried tomato spread, but more flavorful and spicy. It is good spread on just about everything.
Read on to learn some of the back story of Pepper Crush and their wonderful peppers.
How did you first discover these dried peppers?
These three dried peppers have been used for generations in Turkey, though they're not well known beyond Turkey's borders. Elif, one of our partners, grew up in this part of the world and was raised on these flavors from a very young age. She loves to cook with them and is passionate about sharing them with people she meets.
Where do they originate from?
They are all from ancient cities in the southeast regions of Turkey, a region famous for its food - people say it's a lot like Tuscany, but with minarets. Antakya is
a city at the foot of the mountains in the Hatay province on the Mediterranean coast, sitting just north of Lebanon, and 12 miles west of the Syrian border.Islahiye is located in a fertile valley in the province of Gaziantep, which has over 350 local dishes and was designated a UNESCO culinary capital of the world in December of 2015. And Urfa is the easternmost city in the hot, dry province of Sanliurfa. Elif's Pepper Paste is made with a special blend of peppers from Gaziantep.
We're looking forward to introducing peppers from other regions and countries soon -- there's a whole lot of undiscovered deliciousness out there.
What inspired you to start Pepper Crush?
Fresh, flavorful ground red pepper enhances everything it touches! People might add dried red pepper flakes to Italian dishes like pizza and pasta, but our distinctive peppers add a unique burst of fresh flavor to pretty much every dish we prepare. As you get to know these peppers, from mellow and smoky to bright and lively, you'll start to find your own favorite combinations. We believe that every kitchen deserves to have these peppers. Once you start using them, you will get addicted like we are!
How do they stand out from what is currently available in the United States?
Pepper Crush offers the very freshest, tastiest expressions of each of our peppers. The vintage year, on our label, denotes the harvest, which occurs annually in the autumn, and they're packaged at the peak of flavor. They should be consumed before the following harvest, when they're replaced with the next batch. No self-respecting cook in Turkey will use last year's pepper! It's hard to find these pepper varieties at all, but when we have found commercially available versions of some of our peppers, there's really no comparison. You can see, smell, and most importantly, taste the difference.
What makes your pepper paste so much more flavorful than others from Turkey?
Elif's Pepper paste is made with peppers sourced exclusively from Gaziantep. We source directly from local farmers, where the very best peppers are hand-picked and dried under the sun. The farmers have been making this paste for generations with ancient, time-honored processes. No modern machine technology is involved. Again, if you find another pepper paste, you will instantly see, smell, and taste the difference.
Can you explain the notion of terroir in relation to pepper?
There are so many pepper varieties all around the world. The soil, sun, where they grow, and how they are processed all affect the taste of the resulting crushed pepper. For us, each pepper variety is a portrait of the place where it is grown.
What is your favorite recipe with pepper?
We love putting pepper on everything! Our current favorite is the parmesan twist. Pepper adds a perky new flavor to traditional cheese twists. Another great combination that knocked our socks off was when we tried the twists recipe with Cheddar and Urfa pepper. But seriously, we believe that pretty much everything is better with pepper.
Photography by Jess Hitt