When Pepe Saya began as a Carriageworks Farmers Market stall in 2010, co-founder Pierre “Pepe” Issa never expected his butter would travel further than the kitchens of Sydney.
Thirteen years later, the foil-wrapped rounds of spreadable, cultured butter appear in tiny boutique delis and big supermarkets, on Qantas flights, and on shelves in Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong.
For the first time, Pepe Saya will be produced outside of Sydney. The team is partnering with the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to produce Pepe Saya’s range of dairy products in early 2024. “I reckon we’re 10 recipes away from putting it out on the market,” Issa tells Broadsheet. “[The Amish community] don’t practise conventional farming; their herds and farming techniques are, by default, organic and biodynamic.”
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The Amish are known for their low-touch, slow-farming methods and high-quality dairy. Cream comes from grass-fed cows at local family-run farms, there’s no use of pesticides or electricity, and everything’s handmade. “It’s a joint venture, not contract manufacturing,” Issa says. “It’s our machinery on their farm, and their community running it.”
The business venture was born in June 2023, after Pepe Saya co-founder (and Issa’s wife) Melissa Altman’s trip to the Fancy Food Show in New York, where she was connected with the Amish community. Conversations were had and, as the Amish could not fly, a delegate from the Mennonite community travelled to Sydney to check out the Pepe Saya set-up. “He spent two weeks with us to understand what we do and what we wanted to do,” says Issa. “The deal was he’d be here for a week and if he felt good, I’ll follow him back.”
Issa soon travelled to Lancaster County with a collection of Pepe Saya’s trademark hand-pressed round moulds in his bag. “We showed up and everything was so picturesque,” he says. “They picked us up in the horse and buggies … it’s probably the only place I’ve been that I’ve had culture shock. Like, these guys understand handmade.”
Issa met Brother Daniel, the Amish butter maker heading up Pepe Saya’s American production. Issa set up the creamery, made the first batches and ran training sessions with the new team. While the Amish have a 300-year history of hand-churning butter, Pepe Saya is different. “The concept is the same: churning cream into butter,” says Issa. “[But the Amish] have no heritage of culturing, they make straight-up butter.”
Pepe Saya inoculates the cream with lactobacillus culture before churning, which creates a rounded flavour profile – and slight tang. Now crème fraîche, it’s churned to produce butter and buttermilk. The butter is kneaded, pressed into the hand-formed moulds, then wrapped. This workflow produces the Pepe Saya core range: crème fraîche, buttermilk and salted butter. Then there’s ghee, clotted cream, a smoked and a maple butter, salted caramels and truffles. All products are planned for eventual release in the US.