It’s been four months since Santa Fe native Patrick Block opened the doors to his fermenting headquarters, Barrio Brinery. A true culinary specialist; Block prepares and sells four varieties of pickles, as well as escabeche (a spicy Mexican relish) and sauerkraut.
Block reports a strong local response since the store’s opening. From home fermenters to pickle enthusiasts to people who are curious, Block’s customers even extend to Albuquerque residents who drive up with no other intention than sampling his delicious, homemade pickles.
The idea for his unique business took shape when Block retired from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and began to seriously explore his “next career”. It’s no surprise that his new venture is food related; eating and cooking have been lifelong passions.
After doing market research to see what food businesses had succeeded in locations similar to Santa Fe, Block settled on opening an artisanal pickle business. He had found his niche.
Block began experimenting with pickle recipes, subjecting his family members to endless tastings (with no complaints from his wife and son!). He consulted with professors from New Mexico State University and NC State University about fermentation practices. The book, “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz, also proved to be a very helpful resource.
Eventually, Block settled on recipes that included a local twist by adding New Mexico red chile pods in varying amounts to each of his four pickle options (half-sours, garlic, hot and spicy and Kosher-style dill).
Barrio Brinery’s pickles are made from a variety of Kirby cucumbers. Block, who tries to use organic produce whenever possible, says he will push to work with local suppliers once cucumbers are in season. This fall, he intends to cultivate a small batch of estate cucumbers in a friend’s Tesuque garden.
According to Block, the business has been busier than initially anticipated; he recently hired the brinery’s first full-time employee: “I thought there’d be a certain amount of time where I would just sit around and watch stuff ferment. There is always something to do here.”
Block’s current business plan envisions three sales strategies: retail sales at the store, pursuing commercial accounts (e.g., restaurants) and eventually selling through broader based food outlets, such as grocery stores. The brinery already offers its products in several local establishments, including Amaya (the restaurant at Hotel Santa Fe) and Cheesemongers of Santa Fe. Bon Appetit Management Company, the food service provider for the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, is also a client.
On June 13th, Block will present an introduction to fermented foods as part of a free workshop series at the Railyard Park in Santa Fe. For more information, check out the workshop website. Block also hinted that he may teach fermentation classes offered via the Santa Fe Culinary Academy in the months to come.
For those interested in pursuing a small artisanal food business, Block suggests crunching the numbers: “If it’s something that no one else is doing, then you need to think about it a little bit because that means there’s a void in the market. Is it really a void that wants to be filled or not? That was kind of the gamble we took…”