A rundown of some metro Detroit premier pickle producers
Published: June 13, 2012
Sharon Matzelle and her sisters came up with the pun-themed business name when they started making flavored vinegars together in 1994. Now it's her own business, and Matzelle's specialty has become pickles. Originally, they were samples she used to entice customers to buy her vinegars at Oakland County's farmers' market. "I would give people my pickle recipe when I sold it, and they'd come back and say, 'It didn't work out. Can you make them?'"
That's surprising, considering how simply Matzelle's preparations sound. She relies on her special apple vinegar to impart flavor, spending a few weeks to turn it into a dill-garlic vinegar, then adding rosemary, sage and salt to create the brine. Cucumbers, sliced into chunks, are packed into 16-ounce wide-mouth jars, and the product is refrigerated for several days before being sold on ice at several farmers' markets.
Matzelle says, "My pickles are all-natural — no preservatives — so it's a refrigerator pickle that you need to eat in a couple months for the best flavor. And if people bring back empty jars, I give them a little bit off their next purchase."
She also makes a few special batches when the produce is in season, including whole baby dills and pickled cauliflower.
Matzelle has noticed an uptick in awareness since the 1990s, thanks to rising interest in seasonal eating and traditional food preservation, as well as the local food movement. She says, "It seems like people weren't really that health-conscious back then ... but now people love it. They want to eat better — no calories, no fat. Some people, when they finish the pickles they drink the brine. They love the taste: It's cleansing and it's good for you."
Where to buy: Rochester Farmers Market, Royal Oak Farmers Market, Clarkston Farmers Market starting June 23. For more information, call 248-935-2329 or e-mail email@example.com.
Perkins Pickles president Tom Perkins has always loved the tangy taste of a good pickle. As a kid, he says he didn't carry around a packet of Skittles, he had a jar of pickles. For Christmas, he'd get 5-gallon tubs of pickles as gifts. That love of pickles continued into adulthood, and in 2007, when he was living in Chicago working as a button-maker at the Busy Beaver Button Factory (yes, it's for real; Google will prove it), Perkins and his fellow button-makers would order pickles from different companies, trying to find the best.
"Everybody there was kind of a pickle fan, and I kept eating these pickles and I started to think, 'You know, I bet I can do this better.' So, with some urging from my colleagues at the button company, I started making pickles, just screwing around with a bunch of recipes. It just sort of evolved from there. I got a recipe I thought was pretty good, and went to the Leelanau Pickle-Off Festival with my friend's dad, who had deep pockets. And so when I ended up winning the People's Choice award, beating out 50 other companies, he sorta said, 'What's it going to take to get this started?' That was 2009, and I started going through the licensing, tweaking the recipe until just last year, when I got serious about jarring."
Rather than call his pickles "cold-pack," Perkins prefers using the term "refrigerator-style" pickles, because "people recognize it more."
Describing his process, he says, "We put pickles in five-gallon food-grade buckets on Monday, pull them out partway through the week and chop them up into bite-size pieces and put them back in the brine again until Friday, when we pull them out and jar them. It's a super-quick pickle. There's actually a style of pickle called a 24-hour dill, but this is more like a 96-hour dill, I guess. So it's all really fresh, and we make just enough to sell during the week. Every Friday we have fresh pickles coming out, so nobody gets pickles that are more than a week old. That helps keep the product cold, crisp and fresh.
Perkins' brine includes peppercorns, crushed red pepper, garlic and sugar — although he cautions that it's only a little bit sweet, "definitely not a bread and butter or sweet pickle."
"People ask me what kind of pickle it is," he says. "It's a little sweet, but it's not a sweet pickle; it's got a little spice to it. It's not quite a new dill; it's fresh like a new dill, but new dills don't use vinegar. It's basically a hybrid of a lot of different kinds of pickles."
In addition to pickles, Perkins also sells pickled garlic, taking the garlic he pickles with and letting it sit a few more weeks. Other products available from time to time include pickled green tomatoes and chow-chow, a pickled relish (Perkins prefers to call it a "slaw") made from red cabbage, green tomatoes, pearl onions, carrots and jalapeños.
With all these new pickle companies, you might think there'd be stubborn rivalries among competitors, but Perkins paints a different picture. "The pickle guys are all really nice," he says. "Some of the other food people aren't very friendly to each other, and it is cool that there are all these companies and we're all friendly and supportive, and we're all doing a little bit differently, we all kind of have our own niche, and it's cool that way. Joe McClure is actually one of the nicest guys I've come across, always offering to help me out in some way."
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