This is anything but plain vanilla.
Husband and wife Perry and Ria Jocson’s vanilla-scented “lightbulb” moment comes about because of crinkies — crinkle + cookie ”“ their version of the ideal crinkles, those molten cocoa cookies with cracked, powdered-sugar tops. Seems the crinkles they’d been buying from their usual purveyors to assuage midnight cravings had slipped below par, so they decide to make their own.
- Vanilla farm in Tahiti. Photo courtesy of Perry Jocson
- Drying vanilla beans. Photo courtesy of Perry Jocson
The crinkle recipe they finally come up with depends on good vanilla but a search for it in beans and extract prove disappointing. This leads to the idea of importing quality vanilla beans. “We corresponded with a lot of people via email and tested several varieties [of beans],” narrates Perry, “and finally decided to import from a farm in Papua New Guinea.” Perry, whom Ria describes as the “scientific, technical one,” tells me that this particular farm they’re affiliated with is a certified organic plantation that grows, harvests, and cures its own vanilla beans, as opposed to the beans being sent to a central curing plant. “… so we’re assured of proper handling … and these beans are organic,” Perry adds.
At this point in our conversation, Perry hands me a heavy rectangular box similar to those used to package expensive watches. I throw him a questioning glance, flip the lid off and then inhale sharply at seeing its contents: the largest, plumpest vanilla bean I’ve ever seen ”“ almost 7 inches long and ½ inch thick – enclosed lovingly in the arms of a gold silk ribbon. I feel like I’ve won the lotto. Quickly, I snap the cover back on, not quite believing what I see, not quite believing it’s for me. I take another peek: the bean is still there, its natural oils glistening. My nose perks up at the bean’s fragrance.
My reaction isn’t melodrama. For those who know, a vanilla bean is worth its weight in gold ”“ maybe even more so. The vanilla plant, with vines reaching over 100 feet, produces a tawny colored orchid. Once pollinated, it develops pods, the beans containing those innumerable, precious black seeds. It’s only once the beans are dried and cured do they emit the intoxication we know as vanilla, its 256 flavor compounds capable of enhancing other ingredients it accompanies.
- Vines of the vanilla plant. Photo courtesy of Perry Jocson
The process sounds simple but it’s fraught with pitfalls. The success of a vanilla “crop” depends primarily on weather, and vanilla planters painstakingly fertilize the orchids themselves ”“ natural pollinators like bees and other insects can’t be solely relied on. Also, as a valuable commodity up there with coffee beans and cacao, there are booms and busts. There’s the issue of supply and demand and just like wine, some years are good and some aren’t (i.e. Indonesia thrives one year, Madagascar may not). With high quality vanilla beans demanding prices of over $500 per kilo, they’re so valuable that some farms hire guards to watch over the precious plant.
Perry and Ria simply call their business, The Vanilla Bean Company. As graphic designers by profession, they’ve come up with the packaging’s most elegant logo. In barely three months, they’ve made their beans available to discerning purveyors: Bacchus, Terry Selection, Cooks Exchange, and Gourdo’s.
The Vanilla Bean Company imports the two types of beans most desired by culinary professionals: Bourbon Vanilla Bean: redolent with natural vanillin (pure vanilla extract’s main ingredient) that possesses a complex, rounded flavor familiar to most people as true or traditional vanilla.
- Tahitian vanilla beans in silhouette. Note how moist they are.
Then there’s the Tahitian Vanilla Bean: fruitier than its Bourbon counterpart with notes of flowers, cherry, and licorice. This type is rarer ”“ it’s plumper than Bourbon and has fewer seeds ”“ and is absolutely worth using in desserts and dishes where vanilla is the main ingredient.
I may not have truly realized it until I actually have it in my hands but I’ve been coveting this type of vanilla bean my whole life: desiring its lush plumpness, yearning to see those oils, wanting to envelop my senses in its fragrant embrace. Noticing that I’ve been gripping the box like I’m half-expecting it to evaporate into aromatic air at any moment, Perry tells me that I’ve just been given what they call their Gold Label Tahitian Vanilla Bean, the piÃ¨ce de résistance of all vanilla beans. Believe it or not, this is the same type of bean from the same farm where Michelin chefs Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, et al source their beans! The farm has also won the Concours General Agricole Vanilla Bean Medaille D’Or in Paris for years 2007-2009. If you want quality vanilla beans, this is the holy grail.
- my half-empty bottles of vanilla extract. Now I’ve got something even better.
Perry and Ria now have all the vanilla bean and extract they need for their crinkies (which I’m waiting to taste) and anything else these self-avowed food lovers want to cook up. Ria tells me Perry even puts the occasional bean into his morning coffee. (!) When I marvel at how fast they’ve moved their business in under a quarter, they speak of passion ”“ what else ”“ but also humility. “We’re doing a lot of research along the way and everything else by ourselves,” says Perry reflectively. “Of course we’re enjoying ourselves immensely too. But we feel we’re still on the cusp of something bigger. And better.”
The Vanilla Bean Company
0915. 460 8888
P130 – Gourmet Solo Packs
P250 – Gourmet Budget Packs (3 beans)
P350 – Gold Label Premium
P250 – Gourmet Pure Vanilla Extract 30ml 1x
P700 – Gold Label Pure 100% Tahiti Vanilla Extract 4x (alcohol free).