26 August 2009

Back on the shop floor at Steenbergs

Back on the shop floor at Steenbergs

I am currently working back on the Steenbergs shop floor as our chief blender, Alan, is on his annual holiday somewhere in Greece.  It is great fun to be back where it all began, blending the blends that I’ve created over the years and grinding organic black pepper.

There’s been a flurry from some of our raw materials customers for organic cracked black pepper, as we are one of the few businesses willing to do small amounts of these to bespoke sizes.

At Steenbergs, we begin with top quality, re-cleaned and steam sterilised organic black peppercorns from India or Sri Lanka.  We then crack these through our industrial-scale mill through a 1.5mm cut size.  At Steenbergs, we then pass them through 2 sieve meshes:  the first is large at 1.25mm to remove any oversizes that may have got through the spice mill; the second is 650 microns, or 0.65mm, to remove the fines. 

This gives a fairly consistently sized chopped organic black peppercorn as if it has gone through the coarse setting on your peppermill at home.  As the pepper falls through the check sieve it passes over strong permanent magnets that remove any stray bits of metal.  We pack these up into 20kg sacks, before running them through a metal detector that will pick up stainless steel, iron and other metals, checking for any other conductive contaminants.

The resultant 1mm chop is called cracked black pepper in the UK, crushed in the USA and butcher’s chop in Germany, where it mainly goes into salamis.

I love the intense smell of the ground black pepper, which gets into mouth and all over your skin – even though you’re fully togged up in protective gear (hygiene overcoats, hairnets, hats etc), it gets everywhere.  I suppose it is just a very aromatic dust.  I also find the motion of the check sieve really hypnotic and the finalisation of the quality of the grind truly satisfying.

The resultant fine ground pepper is further sieved through a 250 micron sieve to give an organic fine ground black pepper, and an organic coarse black pepper.

Today, I’ve also made some organic chilli powder, which we blend using a super-hot organic Guntur chilli powder from India, together with an organic paprika, halving the overall heat.  It’s still a pretty pungent, red hot chilli pepper.  For this, we use extra protective gear, including a face mask, goggles, latex gloves and protective arm covers.