It’s known as the wiregrass region, this part of the South that takes in parts of southern Georgia, southeastern Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Travel its rolling topography and you’ll pass quail hunting plantations, cattle ranches and dairy farms and cotton fields galore. And stately pecan trees. Thousands and thousands of the pecan trees that help make Georgia the nation’s leading pecan producing state according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
U.S. Route 84, sometimes called the “Wiregrass Georgia Parkway,” passes through these orchards of pecans. One of the towns along the way is Brinson, 10 miles southwest of Bainbridge. There are certainly more pecan trees than citizens in Brinson, the hometown of brothers Rob and Eric Cohen of Pecan Ridge Plantation.
The Cohens grew up with pecans. Their family has an orchard in Brinson and the Pecan Ridge Plantation warehouse, where they produce their pecan oil and pecan truffle oil, is next door to the family property there.
The brothers graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in agriculture and formally got into the pecan business in 2000 when they purchased their first pecan orchard of 45 acres and incorporated as R & E Pecan Growers. They now farm about 1,400 acres spread out over five counties in Georgia and Florida and sell the bulk of their pecans internationally.
In 2014, Rob’s then 11-year-old daughter was looking for a way to raise money for a mission project for her church, and also to support her love of horses and horseback riding. Remembering a casual mention from her father about the potential of producing pecan oil, she suggested they give it a try. Her dad sent some of their pecans to a pressing facility and helped her prepare to sell the pecan oil locally.
“We began selling at the Bainbridge Farmers Market and would sell out every Saturday. That encouraged us to invest in the equipment and convert part of the pecan warehouse to produce pecan oil under the name of Pecan Ridge Plantation. Food shows and working with the state’s Georgia Grown program have increased our customer base pretty quickly,” said Mollie Cohen, Eric’s wife, who along with Rob’s wife Rebecca, helps run the business.
At about the same time the family was getting into the pecan oil business, they learned about Tate, a black lab being trained to find pecan truffles. Pecan truffles are small brown tubers in the same genus as white European truffles and were first recognized in local pecan orchards by Dr. Tim Brenneman of The University of Georgia.
Thinking his kids would enjoy truffle hunting as a project, Eric bought Tate, now a full-fledged truffle hunter and the star of Truffles by Tate, and another new business was born. You can read about the Cohens, Tate and pecan truffles in our In Season column.
And if you want to see Tate in action, you can book a pecan truffle hunt for up to eight people. The season is generally July through October but it definitely takes wet weather to produce the best crop of truffles. A hunts last about two hours and the truffle hunters go home with two ounces of pecan truffles, assuming they find that many.
Pecan Ridge began offering pecan truffle oil in 2016. They have done some work with The University of Georgia to possibly develop a product that uses their pecan truffles. Given the scarcity of pecan truffles, if that works out, the quantity produced would be very limited. In the meantime, their pecan truffle oil is made from their pecan oil infused with black truffle extract.
Holly Chute, executive chef for Georgia’s departments of agriculture and economic development, is a big fan of their pecan truffle oil. “I like the richness of the truffle flavor. It pairs so well with mushrooms and chicken. One of my favorite ways to serve it is to make crostini topped with creamed mushrooms and then finished with pecan truffle oil.”
The pecan oil is pressed in the Brinson warehouse. Michaele Bryant, a talented high school senior who has already earned the equivalent of an associate degree while still in high school, is the “warehouse manager.” She oversees the small press with its hopper that holds two pounds of crushed pecans at a time.
The warehouse is not open for tours but the Cohens welcomed me to visit and see how pecan oil is made. Mollie and Michaele toured me through the operation while Rob dropped in to take a wrench to the press and Eric stopped by to introduce me to Tate.
Watching pecan oil being made is like watching paint dry. But in a good way. The screw press slowly turns and cold presses out oil. The air is perfumed with the rich fragrance of pecans. The oil drips slowly into a 55-gallon barrel and the waste product, pecan meal, comes out the other side of the press. Some of the pecan meal goes to nearby White Oak Pastures to feed their newest livestock addition, the first Iberian hogs to be raised in the United States.
This is slow food for sure. It takes about a pound of pecans to make one eight-ounce bottle of oil. And about four days to fill a 55-gallon barrel. The oil is filtered four times and then the 3.4-, 8.5- and 16.9-ounce bottles are hand-filled and hand-labeled. The pecan truffle oil goes through its own infusion process and is available in dark brown 3.4- and 8.5-ounce bottles.
The Cohens have focused on retail sales and their products are sold in the Atlanta area at stores such as Moye’s Pharmacy in McDonough, Crazy Love Coffee House and The Shoppe at Barrington Hall in Roswell, Greene’s Fine Food in Decatur, The Sous Chef in Carrollton and Lucy’s Market, Stripaggio, Star Provisions and Eco-Denizen in Atlanta. They’re also available online. Through October 17, enter the code FALL17 for 20 percent off orders over $50.
Next for Pecan Ridge Plantation? They’re reaching out to area chefs and hoping you’ll see more of their Georgia pecan oil on the menu at your favorite restaurants.