In the middle of a surprisingly amazing holiday in Cambodia (not surprising that we had a good holiday, just surprising that it was SO great, SO interesting and SO much fun) we got in a tuk tuk and travelled for a long time over quite* bumpy dusty dirt roads to the pepper farms of Kampot. We went mainly because we wanted a day out in a tuk tuk and didn’t expect to be quite so blown away by pepper. Yes, pepper.
I had never given much thought to pepper. It was just one of those things I used every day and it was small and black and required a grinder. Depending where you were, this grinder was either easily slotted into your hand, or big enough to substitute for an artificial limb (I’m looking at you, Sydney Italian restaurants in general).
But at the Kampot pepper farm I learned that pepper is so much more. And infinite in variety. Red, white, green, black. Round, long. They were all here for our edification and education. Kampot pepper has AOC certification. That means it’s like champagne that can only come from the Champagne region of France. I love champagne. But I digress.
*very extremely maximally
What is it?
Kampot pepper is a cultivar of piper negrum and has been a certified appellation of origin (AOC) product since 2010.
Where is it from?
Uh… duh! KAMPOT!
Specifically the foothills of the Elephant Mountains, where the quartz content of the soil apparently helps to give the pepper its unique terroir.
Kampot pepper first came to world attention in the 13th century. Production in the modern era was initiated under French colonial rule in the 1870s. By the 1960s there were 1 million pepper poles in Kampot, but this drastically declined during the civil war. Production is now increasing again but is not at the pre-war level yet.
There’s a bit of argy-bargy about deforestation occurring due to the increase in production. I find it hard to know where to land on this issue. On one hand I am a big fan of trees and protecting the planet, it being the only one we currently have. But on the other, who are we as rich white Westerners to tell these people, who are trying SO hard to emerge from a terrible war and destruction and poverty that they can’t try to make a quid any way they can?
Kampot pepper is so fragrant! And so full of flavour. It has helped me to see the pepper light and recognise that, like so many things, there can be the regular workaday variety that you don’t think much about, and the supremo version that can change your life.
What does it go with?
I have only three words for you: Kampot. Pepper. Crab.
OK, I have more words: anything you put pepper on.
The fun fact.
Black peppercorns are green when harvested but change colour during drying. White peppercorns are black ones without the skin. Red peppercorns are green ones left on the vine for an extra four months.
I am reading a lot about Cambodia and its government. Again. I don’t really want to say too much as I would love to return and preferably not be thrown in the clink, but those beautiful people deserve so much more and so much better. They are extraordinarily resilient, kind and peaceful people, and this oppression – that has been tolerated by Western countries and even rewarded with aid – is yucky (understatement). Watch the movie ‘First They Killed My Father’ if you want to spend a harrowing night at home with the popcorn.