I’ve been using the same pepper mill since forever. Made of cast aluminum, in a classic retro style, it’s solid, chic, and will last a lifetime–everything I wanted in a
mate pepper grinder. It was a knock-off of the expensive brand, but I didn’t feel like I was settling. It has provided me with fresh-ground pepper for decades. I never thought I would stray.
Then a new pepper mill came into my life. I hadn’t gone looking for a replacement. It found me, here at work. I write item copy, and was assigned our Gourmet Pepper Mill.
(OK, I’m lying. I chose it myself.)
While reading about it, I became…intrigued. It wasn’t its fancy French pedigree, although that didn’t hurt. It was the performance it promised. Perfectly even grinds, in my choice of fineness or coarseness. And I could choose a different peppercorn type on a whim. Variety is the spice of life, and pepper is a spice, amirite?
I read about pepper (piper nigrum, not chili peppers, an entirely different plant) and how it sparked the spice trade, with its history of international intrigue, daring exploration, lust for power, and fierce greed. I researched the types of pepper that come with the fancy mill, and dreamed of the exotic, heady aromas and tastes that could be mine with a simple twist of the wrist.
If thoughts are deeds, I was already cheating on my old mill.
The mill comes with three different types of high-class peppercorns. Each is in a plastic canister that you can snap on and off the mill in seconds. I was into this, bigtime. I love experimenting with new ingredients. I’d never heard of Voatsiperifery, a wild peppercorn from Madagascar, and read that it was good on desserts. I hadn’t tried pepper (other than chili peppers) on anything sweet, but I was game. I’d been wanting for a while to try making panna cotta, and it’s white, so the ground pepper on it would be easy to see. Perfect.
Panna cotta is so easy and fast to make! I had no idea. I turned to one of my favorite, trusted cooking blogs for a basic vanilla panna cotta recipe.
All you do is sprinkle some unflavored gelatine powder on a mixture of milk and cream (half-and-half is a shortcut). (For an animal-friendly alternative to gelatine, use agar agar.) Heat, but not to boiling, which nullifies gelatine’s gelling properties. Makes sure gelatine is dissolved. Add sugar and let it dissolve, too. This all just takes a few minutes. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt, and pour into molds (coffee cups will do just fine).
If you want to try pepper, sprinkle it on now. Put the molds in the fridge for a couple of hours. Boom, you’re done. Your silky, creamy, jiggly panna cotta is ready to eat.
While I loved the panna cotta, the pepper-on-dessert thing turned out not to really be my thing. So I decided to try my new pepper mill on some savory items. Only one rule: they had to be white, or off-white, for contrast.
I changed canisters and tried the Vietnamese Dong Nai pepper on a beefsteak tomato sandwich. Bliss.
I tested the two mills on some spaghetti. Look at the contrast between pepper ground by my old mill and the new one. The old one doesnt grind evenly, not even a little bit. On some foods, like salads, I like being surprised by a bigger chunk of pepper. But on most dishes, I want both more subtlety, and more control over how much pepper my tongue touches at once.
I feel a little guilty about abandoning my old, trusty pepper grinder. But it turned out that it wasn’t really all that trusty: it did the job, but not very well. I love my new mill. I want to give it to everyone I know. And I’m looking forward to trying all sorts of different peppercorns.