Pick a Peck of Peppercorns

IMG_2373_A_SM_revisedThough ground black pepper can be found next to nearly every salt shaker in America, the peppercorns that go into Champignon de Luxe – Pfeffer/Pepper are not your average peppercorns. Champignon Pepper cheese is flecked with whole green Madagascar peppercorns. These peppercorns add a brisk but mild pepper flavor and a chewy bite that complements the cheese’s smooth and creamy paste.

IMG_2324_A_SM-1Green peppercorns are much less strident in flavor than the more commonly used black peppercorns, and they have a very tender outer shell. Both green and black peppercorns, as well as white peppercorns are berries of the tropical plant Piper nigrum, which are harvested and processed at different stages of development. Green peppercorns come from the first harvest, when the berries are plucked from the vine before they have ripened. They are then freeze-dried, air-dried, or preserved in brine or vinegar to prevent fermentation.  (Those used in Champignon Pepper have been preserved in brine.

This process mellows the flavor and firmness of the peppercorns so that they are not as hot-spicy or as crunchy as dried peppercorns.) Green peppercorns are still quite aromatic, with a delicate piquancy, which produces a brightening, rather than burning sensation on the tongue.

Black peppercorns are from the second harvest, from berries that have been left on the vine until just before they fully ripen. Once they are picked, they are left to ferment for a short period of time. This fermentation period develops the characteristic spicy flavor of black peppercorns. Then, the peppercorns are air-dried, which causes them to shrivel and turn hard and black.

White peppercorns are produced from peppercorns that have been left on the vine until they have fully ripened. After harvesting, the outer skin of the berry is removed, usually by blanching, revealing the berry’s white inner seed.