As many of you already know, I am quite fussy about sourcing ingredients from artisan, ethical and small businesses rather than the usual brands that have taken over the UK like a rabid pestilence (you know who I mean!). With the recent (and historic) food scandals around meat, my 1st port of call for protein is always Casey Fields Farm Shop, part of Vicar’s Game who can supply almost anything (and knows exactly from where, and what it comes from!). But in order to enhance ANY recipe then you need Herbs and Spices, this maybe just Salt or Pepper but even the most basic of additions to a meal need some consideration to get the best flavor.
So for Herbs, Spices and other flavor enhancers my 1st port of call is STEENBERGS, in fact it probably is my ONLY place of call, unless I forget to order something when my current stock is depleted!
Steenbergs Organic is a family-run, friendly firm committed to Fairtrade, the environment and people. It was set up in 2003 by Axel and Sophie Steenberg in North Yorkshire and this week I had the privilege of popping in on my way to a meeting in Darlington. Just to be clear, I was not asked to do a review, received no gifts or favours (other than sharing a nice cup of tea with Axel), but from a personally perspective wanted to understand more about a supplier I use on a regular basis, and pass on my own view of the experience.
Sourcing Herbs and Spice’s is not easy, as I was to find out from Axel as we went from room to room. It was a 3 1/2 drive to Melmerby, near Ripon in North Yorkshire where Steenbergs are located, after I arrived, I completed the mandatory health/sickness declaration, donned a cloak and hair net, and we started the tour. Sophie, Axel’s partner (in both marriage and business), was busy applying the finishing touches to a box of the distinctive glass jars that are used to store the various products, the final blue seal. Legislation has an interesting impact on importing food products. You would imagine that Cardamom, Pepper, Sumac etc. would arrive in ‘romantic’ hessian sacks, but no, thanks to the EU and other legislative bodies, vacuum packing is the order of the day and the 1st task as soon as a shipment arrives, is to remove the plastic to prevent the product from sweating and going off!
Steenbergs have in excess of 200 items, I mentioned Salt and Pepper earlier and you are spoilt for choice (and flavor). Kala Namak – Indian Black Salt, Pyramid Finger Salt From Pakistan, Murray River Pink Salt from Australia, Lava Red Hawaiian Sea Salt enriched with A natural mineral called “Alaea” (baked volcanic red clay), they all have different flavor profiles and searching on Steenbergs VERY comprehensive website you can find details and descriptions on how to match the product with food, and importantly details about the sourcing. On the Pepper front you can choose from Tasmanian Mountain Pepper Leaf ( a new one for me!), Southern Sumatran Lampung Black Pepper, Madagascan Wild Pepper, Tasmanian Mountain Pepper (Very Hot), Piper retrofactum (Long Pepper from Indonesia) as well as ‘normal’ varieties.
Steenbergs, because of the size and family nature of the business are VERY flexible about obtaining new Herbs and Spices. Because they are not buying bulk anonymous products by the Ton, but locating ingredients at source in smaller quantities, they are keen to try and locate unusual and difficult to get ingredients for their customers, a really personal touch.
Whilst we were touring the facility I asked a question about Saffron, the most expensive Spice in the world. Steenbergs have several on offer including one from AFGHANISTAN, please click and find out how they are helping change a village and impacting on the illegal drug trade, its a truly amazing story.
The aromas as we walked around the factory were intoxicating, the machine above delivers precise amounts of Herbs or Spices into the jars before labeling, the picture was taken as a Madras Curry Powder mix was going through the process, mmmmmm.
Steenbergs sell Herbs, Spices and their own blends, which introduced another really interesting (and artisan) feature. If you look at the majority of Spice blends in the shops, the powder is the same size (with a very few exceptions), Steenbergs blends are personal to them, so the Ras al-Hanut (one of my favourites), has over 20 different ingredients AND they are texturally different, making for a better eating experience.
Whilst on the subject of Ras al-Hanut, if you take some butter puff pastry, preferable home-made but quality shop bought is OK, some decent Sausage Meat from a Butcher (NOT the pink stuff that fills cheap Sausages), add a tablespoon of Steenbergs Ras al-Hanut and mix well you are on your way to the BEST SAUSAGE ROLLS EVER, please try them they are just fantastic.When I made the sausage rolls above as an experiment, and gave one to the ‘boss’ to try, the look on her face said it all, expletives excused bl@@dy delicious!!
So, some of the values that drive the Steenbergs business include ensuring there is personality in the Spice Mixes, Family Village sourcing and having an impact on local communities, flexibility, connecting to real people in remote places, not driven by price….
Steenbergs have some very large well known brands as their customers, and some famous people and chefs too. I won’t say who due to client confidentiality but unfortunately I had to depart and get to Darlington, so said farewell to Axel and his family of workers. If you want to impart and enhance flavour in your cooking then I know what I do, please give them a go, thanks Axel and Sophie for allowing me behind the scenes (and for the tea!).
Till next time……L8ers