For many of us, pickles are a comfort food that remind us of our parents and grandparents, and the fermented foods they kept in jars on the shelves in basements. Just one sight, or more likely one whiff, of those jars of vinegary, preserved foods brings us back to our childhoods.
Now, the pickle lovers among us have a home on Buffalo’s West Side in the form of Barrel + Brine on Carolina Street. The shop, run by married couple RJ and Lindsey Marvin, cranks out fermented foods of all varieties including pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha.
“People want to reconnect with it,” RJ said of his products. “Their grandparents did it and they remember it and they want to find their way back to that style of food.”
After spending 20 years in the restaurant industry, RJ had the passion, and the connections with farmers and suppliers, to carve his own space in the Buffalo food scene. So in late 2015 the couple did just that and opened their shop for business.
The business has grown from selling out of a small storefront to being carried by the likes of Wegmans, the Lexington Co-op and many local restaurants and bars. But for them, it’s always been about filling a niche, and not about making as much money as possible.
“We’re very picky about where we distribute our stuff,” RJ said. “We want to work with people who have the same passions as us.”
Passion is at the heart of everything they do — every single item is handmade. RJ handles the food products and Lindsey is in charge of brewing the kombucha. The entire process — from raw fruits and vegetables to final packaged goods — takes place in their 350 square foot kitchen.
For the couple, the most important thing is the quality of their products. They just want to make delicious foods for people to enjoy.
“Unlike a lot of other places doing this kind of thing, we come at this from a culinary perspective,” Lindsey said. “We want people to have these products because they taste good, not because they think it’s healthy.”
1. Get the raw materials
Barrel + Brine brings in hundreds of pounds of fresh Kirby cucumbers a week to keep up with the demand for fresh pickles.
2. Slice the cucumbers
Each is run through a machine called a Lettuce King that slices the cucumbers into inch-and-a-half chunks.
3. Tub time
The sliced cucumbers are placed in a tub filled with salt water for a full day to start the pickling process.
4. First seasoning
The dill pickle spice blend is added to the salt water mixture to start creating the specific type of pickles, be it dill, or bread and butter or any of their other varieties.
5. Flavor secret
The seasoning blends are the key to making delicious pickles. These proprietary mixtures are what gives each type of pickle its’ distinct flavor.
6. Time to brine
The cucumbers are transferred into a different barrel filled with a hot brine made from vinegar and water. They stay there for a week to truly transform from cucumbers to pickles.
7. Prep the jars
The finished pickles are all hand-jarred by RJ and one staff member. They add a bit more of the seasoning blend to each jar, as the pickles will continue to grow in flavor once packaged.
8. Handmade finish
The pickles and brine and finally added to the jars and each one is hand labeled. It’s a labor-intensive process, but allows for a high level of quality control as each jar is hand inspected.