Top Pick Of The Week

February 27, 2007
Updated November 2008

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Vic Firth Peppermill
The Vic Firth stainless steel Pump & Grind Peppermill has a matching salt mill. Photo courtesy Vic Firth.
WHAT IT IS: Varietal peppercorns—20 different pepper types and counting.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Each origin of the world produces pepper with different aromas and flavors—just like coffee beans and chocolate.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Another way to vary food accents—and it has no calories!

Varietal Peppercorns:
Spice Up Your Life

Page 11: Great Pepper Mill


The Daily Grind: Mortar & Mill

What if you buy a 12-pepper sampler? Do you need to buy 12 peppermills?

While it is our fantasy to have a dozen one-inch-diameter Vic Firth Pump-And-Grind Peppermills (shown at right), one for each of our varietals, the dream has not yet materialized (at $19.99 each, we have acquired just two).

Vic Firth was a timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; now retired, he produces peppermills and salt mills of the highest quality, including the one shown here. It has a single-handed, one-finger grinding action—you can hold your fork in one hand and grind pepper with the other.

It’s six inches high, but at just one inch wide, it’s easily portable for those who must have their Tellicherry or Sarawak instead of whatever the restaurant might be dispensing. It’s a great gift for a pepper-lover ($18.29), and there’s a matching salt mill ($33.18 for both).

So, barring the arrival of the peppermill fairy with the dozen Vic Firths, what’s a student of peppercorns to use, to best taste and cook with the different varieties?

(The article continues below.)


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The Daily Grind: A Mortar & Pestle

Grind it the old-fashioned way, with a mortar and pestle—which, incidentally, is the best way to grind spices and herbs like basil for pesto. The flavor is much better than it is when macerated in an electric spice mill or food processor.

Mortar & Pestle
Grind peppercorns easily in this Thai granite mortar and pestle.

Fortuitously, the Wall Street Journal tested several recently, and recommended this Thai stone granite mortar and pestle as best overall in performance and value. It is available in 3 sizes, and it will last for generations: The vendor claims it is indestructible, and will not crack or chip no matter how hard you pound.

  • The 6" diameter mortar has more than a 1.5-cup capacity ($27.95)
  • The 7" diameter has more than a 2-cup capacity ($35.95)
  • The 8" diameter has more than a 3-cup capacity ($45.95)

Unless you want the large size to make hummus or guacamole, the 6" size is fine for peppercorns, pesto and more.

For much of history pepper, “Black Gold,” was so valuable that it was often used as currency—even as collateral. In the siege of Rome in the 5th century C.E., it is said that both Attila the Hun and Alaric the Visigoth demanded ransoms of more than a ton of pepper.

While a pound of the world’s best Tellicherry might cost $60, most gourmet pepper can be had for $1.25 an ounce, purchased in bulk at a specialty spice store. As affordable as that sounds, coming up with a ton for ransom does run into money.

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to people who love pepper, and anyone who has friends who love to cook.


  • Chef Stefan Peppers Of The World
    Sampler Gift Sets

    Chef’s Peppers Of The World
    (4 Peppers & Guidebook)
    Epicurean Pepper Collection
    (12 Peppers & Guidebook, photo at left)
  • Pepper-Passion Samplers
    White (Muntok, Sarawak
    or Talamanca)
    Black (Lampong, Malabar,
    Tellicherry, Talamanca)
    Black & White (Talamanca Black,
    Vietnamese Black, Muntok White,
    Talamanca White)
    Rainbow (Rose, Green, Tellicherry
    Black, Sarawak White)
  • 4-Ounce Packages
    Aleppo, Brazilian, Cubeb Berries, Green,
    Ecuadorian, Kerala, Lampong, Pink,
    Sarawak, Szechuan, Tellicherry,
    Vietnamese and White Peppercorns
    $4.99 to $5.99

Varietal Pepper Gift Sampler
Chef Stefan’s Epicurean Pepper Collection has samplers of 12 gourmet peppers plus an overview guide.

Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change.

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