Cambodia has a long history of growing fine peppercorns. A Chinese explorer, Tcheou Ta-Kouan, described their cultivation as early as in 13th century. In the late eighteen hundreds, in the Aceh region of Indonesia, several wars took place place and the Sultan of Aceh was defeated by Dutch troops. Rather than leave his valuable pepper crops to the victors, he burned them. It was at this time that part of his pepper production moved to Cambodia. Not long after, French colonists arrived, and with their helpful knowledge of mass production, pepper production grew rapidly to the point of producing 8000 tons at the beginning of the next century. Another byproduct of the French being there was, of course, they would export the crop to France, where French Gourmands including Escoffier embraced it as the finest pepper in the world.
This all came crashing down with the takeover of the Khmer rouge in the 1970s. This was a very dark period in Cambodia's history, with 2 million people disappearing, among them Cambodia's intellectual elites. Pepper production came to a halt over the next 35 years as finally the Khmer rouge were pushed out but 30 years of civil war followed. In the last dozen years or so, generations old pepper farming families that fled the country have made their way back. With the help of some business development organizations along with private supporters, the pepper cultivation is beginning to get back on track.
We would like to show our support by introducing you to this amazing pepper. The people of this region are very proud to produce the first Cambodian product to receive a Protected Geographical Indication. You may be more familiar with a similar type of certification, known as AOC, or appellation d'origine contrôlée, in France that protects regional products like Champagne. In a nutshell, or a peppercorn, this makes the crop extremely special.
This red pepper is the most sought after of all of the Kampot pepper. Unlike the black pepper, which is picked while still green and then ripens to black, the red pepper is left on the vine four months longer. That growing time produces an even more complex end result, but one with less heat than it black counterpart. Kampot Red pepper starts off with a pepper flavor, but quickly you will note fruity and jasmine-like floral notes, as a very subtle sweetness hits your tongue. Some heat then ensues, and it does linger, but it is not as bold and strong as the black pepper. This pepper is special and adds a bit of the exotic to your culinary repertoire.
If you would like to learn a bit more about the history of Cambodia, in the framework that also involves food, we encourage you to watch this excerpt from Anthony Boudain's No Reservations.