The Beerenberg story harks back to 1975. How did it all begin?
In fact, the Paech family has farmed the Beerenberg property since 1839 when the Johann George Paech emigrated with his family from a German-speaking region of Prussia. The town of Hahndorf, where Beerenberg is situated, was named after Captain Hahn, the captain of the ship that brought the families from Prussia. Since that time, the land has been used for subsistence farming, then later dairy cattle until Grant and Carol Paech (my parents) inherited the property in 1969. Not enthusiastic about continuing on with dairy farming, Grant decided to plant some strawberries, initially as an experiment to see how they would grow. He sold them to retailers in the fresh fruit and veg markets in Adelaide. One day, he had some strawberries left over that he hadn’t sold, so he decided to make some jam. Initially he asked Mum (Carol) to make it but she refused, so Grant made it himself on the kitchen stove. He poured it into plastic cream containers (left over from dairying days) and sold all of it on the side of the road the next day (in the same spot as where our Farm Shop is situated today). Given this success, he thought “there must be something in this”. So there started the strawberry jam enterprise. It was at this time that he realised he needed a brand name and a German-speaking friend helped him come up with “Beerenberg”, meaning Berry Hill (or mountain) in German, to honour the cultural heritage of Hahndorf and the Paech family. So Beerenberg the brand (and the farm) came into being. The product range soon extended to Tomato Sauce, chutneys, more jams and now we have over 65 products.
How central is family to what you do?
Family is the core factor in the success of our business. Seven family members currently work for Beerenberg. Our family and business values are very much aligned. As a family, we have formal meetings every six months to talk through business issues that affect the family. This allows us all to be really clear and make sure we’re on the same page. We also have a family constitution that sets out guidelines for things like our vision, code of conduct and succession planning. We derive strength, competitive advantage and satisfaction from being a privately owned, family business so we make sure we nurture that.
With summer around the corner and pickling and preserving more popular than ever, could you give our readers five tips on preserving and pickling at home?
1. Don’t compromise on the quality of your ingredients. Always choose the best on offer at the best time of the season. Ask your local grocer their advice if you’re just starting out with selecting your produce. Even better if you grow your own.
2. In some cases, white sugar will make the colour of your fruit more vibrant than brown sugar. There is no right or wrong here, just choose what you’d prefer.
3. Ideally, use soft or distilled water rather than “hard” water.
4. If using store-bought pectin, always follow the instructions exactly. Liquid and powered pectins behave differently.
5. Take time preparing and sterilising your equipment. A beautiful preserve can be let down by ill-prepared jars and lids.
How does this process happen on the Beerenberg farm?
To use our strawberry jam as an example:
· After picking, we sort the berries by hand. The best looking ones are packed into punnets to be sold as fresh fruit. The rest go into jam (they don’t need to be as good-looking but they need to taste great!). Any berries that aren’t of the highest quality are discarded.
· The strawberries selected for jam are then hulled (the green leaves taken off)
· Each batch of strawberry jam uses 100kgs of strawberries and produces 199 kgs of jam. Although this sounds like a lot, in commercial terms, these are small batches.
· The berries are hand-poured into open steam kettles with sugar, pectin and citric acid.
· The pectin is added slowly with lots of stirring and is a natural product, extracted from the peel of citrus fruit which helps set the jam when cooled.
· Citric acid is added as a natural preservative which helps with making the jam set and taste great.
· Each batch takes about 1.5 hours to cook.
· Once it’s ready, the jam is carefully pumped into a temperature-controlled holding tank.
· Each jar is then filled to the correct volume and steam-capped to help keep the jam fresh.
· Then it runs through a pasteuriser to ensure the product is safe.
· The label is applied.
· Each jar is carefully checked.
· Placed into boxes to keep them from being damaged.
· On average, we produce 4,000 jars per hour.
· Once the product has had time to cool, we then do a final check to ensure all jars are consistent with the home-style flavour we require.