Plain old pepper never seemed very interesting until we visited this small farm outside of Kep. More than growing pepper, Sothy’s Pepper Farm wants to educate the world about the subtleties of a spice that’s too often taken for granted, and win international recognition for the particularly excellent pepper grown in the Kampot-Kep area.
In fact, the farm is now part of the official Kampot pepper geographic area — the first officially protected geographic appellation for any Cambodian product.
Located 17 km (10.5 miles) from Kep’s Crab Market, Sothy’s offers a free tour that starts with a pepper tasting in the farm’s small open-air restaurant. (We didn’t try the food, but we’ve heard it’s good.) Our guide, who spoke excellent English, explained the differences between black, white, and red peppercorns; we’d never encountered the latter before. All three come from the same plant, but different degrees of ripeness and different ways of processing yield dramatic differences in taste.
Another small group nearby was led by a French-speaking guide, and Sothy’s website says tours are also offered in German, Spanish, Japanese, and Vietnamese as well as Khmer.
Next we saw pepper berries drying in the sun and lush green pepper vines climbing under palm-frond shades. Our knowledgeable guide was able to answer every question raised by the passionate horticulturalist in our party. Indeed, anyone interested in gardening will probably enjoy this tour. The farm is organic, using lemongrass and other herbs grown to ward off insects, and the property is full of other crops, including durian, mango, papaya, and rambutan trees.
At the end of the tour, which lasted about 45 minutes, we returned to the pepper shop tucked into the back of the restaurant. There was no pressure to buy, but the tasting had created such enthusiasm for Sothy’s product — “the best pepper I’ve ever had,” the cook in our group exclaimed — that we bought all three colors of pepper both for ourselves and for friends. Organic pepper costs more than the version of the seasoning sold in many local stores, much of it from Vietnam, but genuine Kampot pepper’s richer, more complex flavor justifies the higher price.
A round-trip tuk tuk ride from our lodgings in downtown Kep took about 20 minutes each way and cost $15.