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Fruit of the brine

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The Internet has made it easier for a small company to present an impressive image. When we first saw the McClure's Pickles Web site (mcclurespickles.com), we wouldn't have believed it was a small, mostly local startup, run by brothers Joe and Bob McClure, with occasional help from their parents. But, after sampling the pickles, it became apparent that the product matched the production values, and that we were on the trail of something delicious.

Metro Times: What makes your pickles unique?

Joe McClure: We try to take our time. We hand-pack. We have a little different ratio of brine ingredients. We heat up a big batch of brine. A lot people use a cold brine process. We use different types of peppers. We ferment them for at least two months.

MT: What varieties do you make?

McClure: Hot pickles and garlic dills. One of the problems is trying to keep the spice level consistent. The people who want them hot, want them HOT.

MT: How's business? Where do you sell your pickles?

McClure: Business is good. Making enough product is a problem. They're selling like crazy in Manhattan. Some of them are made here, and my brother Bob, who lives in New York, makes some there too, but not enough. We want to get into some gourmet food markets. We're trying to ramp up production. We're waiting on labels with bar codes to be printed. The mom and pop stores aren't a problem, but the larger stores want bar coding. And we need better distribution.

MT: Do you have the physical capacity to produce more pickles? So many people today are looking for quality products that are homegrown and homemade or small-batch unique foods.

McClure: Definitely. Right now we are packing weekly or bi-weekly, but come summer, when all the local produce starts coming in, we'll ramp up production to two or three times a week. With the fresher produce, the hot ones will be hotter, and the garlic dill variety will have more flavor. We're really just getting started.

MT: Where are they available?

McClure: You can get them online, but we don't sell them online in the Detroit market out of respect to our local retailers. Locally they are sold at Black Lotus Brewing Co. and Bel Cibo Bistro and Market, both in Clawson. Amici's Pizza makes cocktails with the brine. They make a great Bloody Mary.

MT: You've barely touched the market. This is a true cottage industry. How long have you been at it?

McClure: I've been making pickles since I was a little kid with my grandpa, but commercially only since August of 2006. The recipe goes back to my great-grandmother around 1900. I come from a family of cooks. My folks cook, especially my dad. My brother Bob is a good cook and I'm learning. I grow my own herbs and peppers and tomatoes. We're still in the first year. That's why distribution is slow. We're still feeling out where we're going to get our cucumbers. We've actually run out of cukes and had to turn down orders. We plan to hit it hard in the summer and to use strictly local products.

MT: Others products in the works for the future?

McClure: In the winter we are thinking about making relish and maybe parsnips. We've experimented with pickled watermelon rinds. But they were too sweet.

MT: Are good pickling cukes available year-round?

McClure: Yeah, we can get cukes from Florida and Georgia starting in April, but it's more difficult in the hard winter. The quality isn't as good and the prices are too high.

MT: So you get local product in the summer?

McClure: Absolutely. Better and fresher and cheaper. We are working with some farmers about contract growing. If the cukes are too big they are hard to bottle, although we can cut them into spears, but that takes more time to prepare. Personally, I like a whole pickle.

MT: Is this strictly a family operation?

McClure: It's mostly my brother and me. Of course my parents like to help. I'm a student at Wayne, majoring in physiology and Bob is an actor in New York. We care about the product. We try to support local farmers. The labels are printed using recycled paper and soy-based ink. We want to be friendly to the environment whenever possible.

Jeff Broder does this twice-monthly food interview for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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