JEWEL OF THE MALAGASY CANOPY
A true haven
Madagascar ! This enormous island (as long as the distance between Amsterdam and Madrid), located off the coast of Mozambique, is the haven to a generous ecosystem.
The tropical climate of the “Red Island” provides a vast agricultural diversity, including vegetables and exotic fruit and a wide variety of spices such as cloves, pink berries, turmeric, pepper, and of course, the much treasured vanilla!
All these flavours enrich the traditional Romazava (Malagasy traditional stew).
But the island is also the cradle of a rare wild pepper, which not so long ago remained fairly unknown, only to become one of every chef’s favourites: Voatsiperifery pepper.
A well hidden secret
To be able to find it you must leave the bustling capital city, Antananarivo, and set off towards the heart of the primary forest as Voatsiperifery wild pepper has yet to be tamed by mankind.
After several hours driving along bumpy roads and dirt paths, followed by several kilometres on foot up steep paths and across rice paddies, we arrive at the pickers’ villages, at the edge of the forest.
Voatsiperifery pepper (literally “fruit of the vine”), grows all over the island.
This wild pepper prefers shady conditions offered by tall trees and only grows in the forest… and more specifically, right at the top of the trees.
This plant is a vine which climbs up using the trees as stakes and flowers on the canopy.
The whereabouts of these vines are kept preciously secret by the pickers.
At the heart of the primary forest, where the trees and ferns are densely intertwined, it is disconcerting to see the ease with which the pickers find their way and the vines!
A high-flying harvest
The pepper is solely harvested by hand from October to December, when the seeds are red… and so it is at the top of these trees, which have become natural stakes, that the men climb to pick this delicious peppercorn!
The vines or trees are never cut, to ensure the industry is preserved and to combat deforestation.
The pickers clamber agilely to the treetops which are sometimes 30 metres tall, a very challenging task.
In the picking season, the farmers harvest about 25kg of pepper a day.
A strict and careful selection
Once harvested and returned to the villages, the Voatsiperifery pepper is laid out to dry in the sun for 2 to 3 days to ensure it can be transported to the collecting areas in the best conditions.
5kg of fresh pepper are needed to obtain 1kg of dried pepper.
Then, the pepper gets the last stages of its treatment, it is dried in the sun to sterilize the peppercorns, which are then meticulously hand sorted by women to remove any remaining branches and stalks.
A fresh acidy punch
Voatsiperifery pepper is a piper borbonense (from the Bourbon islands). It is stronger and spicier than Piper nigrum. Its sharp long lasting fresh flavours and floral, woody, citrus aromas, make it truly outstanding.
Whilst the locals are able to delect the fresh peppercorns (normally crushed together with garlic and ginger to make a spicy paste used for all kinds of sauces), dried Voatsiperifery pepper has won the hearts of the rest of the world!
Time to cook!
Didier Edon, the Chef of the Restaurant des Hautes Roches (in the Touraine region), is a big fan of Voatsiperifery pepper and loves to use it with chocolate.