Malcolm Jolley finds good, clean and fair DRØM Kampot peppercorns for sale in Toronto.
You’ve been to the farmers market and met the people who grew the fresh vegetables you took with you to your artisan butcher’s shop where the meat you bought was raised humanely and identified by the name of the farm it came from. You take these organic and sustainable ingredients home and lovingly make a delicious meal for your family. As you sit down to enjoy the pleasures of the table with your loved ones you are passed a grinder from which you dispense on your expensively sourced food 2⍧ worth of commodity pepper whose origin is a mystery and whose age might be a decade or more. Is this really how you want to treat your food?
Louise and Nigel Biggar would like to change the ending of the story above. In their version, your meal is seasoned with Kampot peppercorns from Cambodia, organically grown and bought at a fair price from the farmers’ cooperative there. To make this happen, the couple has founded and launched, from their East End Toronto home, DRØM. I met them there this week, days after their official launch, to find out more about this unique business with a funny name.
Drøm means dream in Louise’s native language, Danish. She and Nigel met more than a decade ago when they both worked for development NGO’s in Washington D.C. After they had their twin daughters, nine years ago they decided to make a move and settled on Nigel’s hometown. (Full disclosure: I knew Nigel at high school and summer camp and consider him a friend.) As they settled into a routine of work and raising a family, they decided to try and create a life where they could spend more time together. The first part of that process was a sabbatical year spent traveling the world with their daughters, which brought them to Cambodia’s pepper fields. The second part of that process was to create a business they could run together, in line with their values, which resulted in DRØM. “We think,” explained Louise, “that people are ready for pepper that comes from a place.”
While DRØM has all the elements of a feel good story, Louise Biggar is adamant that the couple’s main inspiration is a superior product. She told me, “It’s a good farm to table story, but first and foremost Kampot pepper is about flavour and fragrance.” She explained that at the moment they smelled fresh green pepper in the fileds of Kampot, they knew they had found something good they needed to share. (DRØM doesn’t sell green peppercorns because the Kampot cooperative does not (yet) have the expensive flash freezing equipment needed to stabilize their fresh flavour – more mature red and black peppercorns will retain their flavour profiles when dried for about three years.)
Nigel demonstrated the difference between their product and commodity pepper by handing me a bag of bulk store bought black peppercorns and invited me to give them a sniff. I buried my nose into the bag and smelled mostly dust and a bit of black pepper. Then, he brought out a box within which was a large plastic bag. In that plastic bag were individually wrapped and sealed 35 gram packages of DRØM’s black Kampot pepper. I could smell it from my seat.
At the table, Louise produced two of the “bottle” grinders, made near her parent’s home in Denmark, that DRØM also sells. They are encouraging people to invest in two grinders for there table, and alternate between red and black peppers depending on what they serve. The bottle design means they rest on the table with the grinding end up, so they don’t leave pepper residue beneath them. On a plate Louise ground a small amount of each colour of pepper. Again the aroma can be detected from a distance. I try both: first the lighter, more lifting red, then the more powerful black. The flavours sustain on my palate for 10 minutes. They are pronounced but not harsh.
The Biggars have created DRØM as a mail order company. A 35 gram box of black pepper is $9.99, and the equivalent of red pepper is $12.99. There is no HST since they are selling a basic foodstuff. The difference, Louise told me, is about 6⍧ a grind for their Kampot versus 2⍧ for commodity pepper. Their motto is “simply better pepper” and they intend to stick to basics. Nigel explained to me they believe they can “elevate Canadians’ expectations about pepper”.
Find out more about DRØM pepper at drompepper.com.