Chillies are a wonderful thing. Brighter than a macaw’s plumage, hotter than the Sahara at noon and when made into a sauce, they are easily the best condiment to drench any assortment of foods with. But aside from the intensity of their coloration and tongue numbing heat, not to mention the vast array of different shapes, the best thing about them are their names.
With over 3000 different varieties of chilli (and growing due to the ease of cross pollination), you wouldn’t blame chilli producers for running out of names and having to get a bit imaginative when a new one blossoms. Some are quite practically named, such as the Trinidad 7 Pot, named because one chilli can apparently be used to make seven pots of stew. Some are named for the deadliness of their heat, such as the Guinness World Record Holder, Carolina Reaper, trumping all others on the scale at a taste bud scorching 2.2 million Scoville units. Others however, are named solely for their shape, like the Scotch Bonnet, which is reminiscent of a Tam o’ Shanter (one of those tartan hats they wear up in Scotland). But when it comes to chilli sauces, the vast amount seem to be named along the lines of what it will do to you on the way out. Take for example ‘Rectal Rocket Fuel’ or ‘Butt Blaster,’ and you can’t leave out ‘Haemorrhoid Helper’. But one local chilli head has gotten more imaginative than his counterparts in the naming of their sauces.
“The names of the sauces are part of the fun of making them,” confessed chilli obsessed Dan Reed, owner of Chilli of the Valley. “I guess the most important thing to me is to have a bit of fun with it all, and not take myself too seriously,” he continued and when you have a flick through his array of sauces, you will see the truth in such a statement.
Some, like Bwgan, are reflections of his Welsh roots whilst others, like Maerdy Gras, are dedicated to places further afield that lead the way in chilli sauce production. Bwgan, the Welsh for ghost contains the Bhut Jolokia or, as it’s more commonly known, ghost chilli. “Strictly speaking I should have called it Ysbryd but Bwgan sounds better!” Dan explained. Maerdy Gras on the other hand is a nod to the Louisiana style sauces and comes with its own tall tale of a man who leaves his hometown in the Rhondda with a lump of turf and landed in New Orleans where he founded the Mardi Gras carnival. Some names reflect the sauces colouring, such as Hulk Juice named by Dan’s four-year-old, superhero loving son, while others, like the obligatory backside themed 50 Shites of Brown (the outcome of some alcohol fuelled banter) are named for their after affects. Whilst those names are clear reflections on the sauces properties, others can be somewhat misleading. You wouldn’t be blamed, for instance, for applying copious amounts of Fluffy Little Kittens sauce to your burger thinking the heat was as harmless as its name, but in reality it’s one of the hottest in Dan’s arsenal. “The Fluffy Little Kittens are an indulgence against names like ‘Ass in the Tub Hot Sauce,’ or ‘Pain and Suffering Hot Sauce,’ or ‘ Pure Poison Hot Sauce,” he explained. “Despite their names, most are pretty mild sauces, but the Fluffy Little Kitten has a soft unassuming name, but packs a bit of a kick.”
“There are stories of some sort behind most of the sauces I make,” said Dan and just like his sauces have stories, so does his company.
Chilli of the Valley, set up in the summer of 2012 in Merthyr Tydfil by Dan now sells a range of condiments that offer heat from the heart of Wales but the origins of Dan’s chilli obsession started long before.
“I have fond memories of growing up and my dad making big pots of curry for the family,” he reminisced. “His curries were always too hot for me, but over the years I guess my tolerance to the hot food developed and I found myself eating hotter and hotter meals.”
In time Dan started to indulge in growing chillies, which, like many addictions, grew faster than a chilli seed. “I was given my first plant by a friend, it was a Ring of Fire,” he continued. “When I realised how easy it was to grow them, I started planting more and more seeds. The chillies became a hobby, which then developed into a chilli sauce making hobby, and has now become more of a ‘chilli growing, sauce making and selling the outcome hobby!’
“The sauce making was a natural progression,” he continued as on top of growing his own chillies, Dan was splashing out nearly £100 every 4 to 6 weeks on chilli sauces so he put two and two together and started making his own, although it took a few tries to perfect his methods and recipes.
“My first attempt was awful!” he admitted, and getting to grips with the smoker he liberated from his father took some time too. “The smoker has been a very steep learning curve,” he continued, and the first time he ever fired her up he did so inside, leaving the inside of his house smelling smokier than The Simpson’s Patty and Selma.
Dan mainly uses his bullet shaped smoker to dry smoke jalapeños; a lengthy process due to their thick, moisture retaining flesh, but is well worth it when they’re dehydrated to form chipotles. He then uses the chipotles in a variety of sauces including Shizzle and 50 Shites of Brown, as well as his salt and chilli Grinder and the Onion Chipotle Marmalade.
The appeal of Chilli of the Valley doesn’t stop with their fiery sauces however, as Dan strives to give back to both the community and the environment. Sourcing all his ingredients locally (where possible, because let’s face it, it’s pretty tough to find a tomato grower in the middle of December), Dan benefits both from a lower carbon footprint, but also because his sauces are much fresher and a darn sight tastier than supermarket bought sauces.
“We’ve also started trying to give a little back to the local community,” he explained and as well as donating chilli seeds and seedlings to a Community Learning Scheme in Merthyr called Growing to Succeed, they’ve also taken part in the Food Revolution Day at Barry Island Primary School to show kids how to grow their own. As well as giving back to the environment and their local community, Dan stays true to his loyal customers and have even created batches of bespoke sauces for them, including one packed full of 60 different types of chillies to celebrate one customer’s 60th birthday.
Not only are Chilli of the Valley a delicious condiment, lovingly made by a man who is passionate about the product he creates, they are truly a socially responsibly company with chillies and the community at the heart of all their sauces. Dan confesses that the best part of running the business is that he can really indulge in his hobby and after over a decade of growing chillies, he is truly living his dream.
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