It’s not news to any local St. Augustinian that our city is full of unique and amazing places, people, and things that truly cannot be found anywhere else. The datil pepper is one of those items. Grown almost exclusively in St. Augustine, no one even knows where the datil pepper originated or who brought it and began to grow it. The fierce little pepper thrives in St. Augustine. For those who prefer a Scoville scale reference, the datil ranks at about 200,000 which is roughly the intensity of a habanero pepper. One of the most upscale manufacturers of datil products, Del Viejo, recently invited me out to sample their datil salsa at The Ancient Olive and teach me all about datil peppers, their products, and their company.
The creator of Del Viejo, Parker Stewart, grew up in Mississippi and attended Mississippi State University prior to moving to St. Augustine. His parents had always used St. Augustine as a vacation spot and had discovered the datil pepper in the process. Together, the Bean family tamed the datil pepper into a salsa that everyone loved. In fact, they live on Datil Pepper Lane, so their foray into fine foods was truly meant to be. They knew they had designed a product that people would really want, but their primary focus was introducing a product that people would truly love. Part of that process was creating their own legend regarding the origin of the datil pepper, their inspiration being to “create something completely new and different that our customers can connect with,” according to Parker. The result was Fernando Del Viejo, a 17th century gourmand and epicurean with the task of protecting the Spanish treasury which is backed by the priceless datil pepper. I love the story that supports the brand that Del Viejo has created. They went above and beyond to create an emotional connection to their consumer and also link in the history of St. Augustine to promote the city to their buyers outside of the area.
The datil pepper salsa ($12) is their flagship product, but the Del Viejo line also includes a datil pepper spice blend ($8), a datil pepper marinade ($10), and soon a dark chocolate infused with datil peppers. As far as the three current products, the datil pepper is the only consistent ingredient carried throughout. The diversity of the products showcases the talent of the Del Viejo team. The salsa has a sweet heat to it and is lightly blended to include substantial bites of tomatoes, onions, jalapeno peppers, and datil peppers. The heat is balanced with lime, vinegar, and cilantro. The salsa is sweet upon the first taste and gradually warms up as you savor it. Parker described the independent datil pepper flavor as having a “slight fruitiness when used in small quantities.” Parker made it clear that he doesn’t just want the salsa to be thought of as something reliant on a chip as a vessel. He emphasized that the salsa is also excellent with ahi tuna and he also makes a spicy artichoke cup with the salsa that is a signature tasting item for Del Viejo events. His most recent recipe on his website is for a datil pepper salsa taco pie, which will be on my personal agenda to try.
As far as the other products, the spice blend brings in the sour orange from Spain, which delivers a smokey flavor that pairs with the heat of the datil peppers. The marinade has a worcestershire base that pairs excellently with pork. As Parker’s family develops these recipes, they focus on finding the exact right amount of datil pepper portion. They want the taste of the datil pepper to be showcased throughout each product without causing too much heat that may be overwhelming for some of their customers. Prior to each product release, they go through an extensive blind tasting process to not only evaluate the flavors of the products but to get recommendations from their customers on how they would use the product day to day. Every Del Viejo product is designed to be versatile.
It’s important to note the elegant touches that are added to the Del Viejo products to make them unique to North Florida history as well as represent the datil pepper itself. The labels are designed to reflect a coat of arms and use subtle yellow markings the exact color of the datil pepper. My particular box, which was presented as a gift crate to me from Del Viejo, contained a letter sealed with wax that again carried through the vibrant yellow of the pepper. The letter inside had an “aged” look to it and is fully customizable for gift recipients. The most fun part? The gift letters are addressed to “King”, “Duke”, “Prince”, “Queen”, “Duchess”, or “Princess”. The crate for the products is hand stamped with the Del Viejo logo and looks just like a 17th century shipping crate. If a gift box ($50) is selected, it can hold up to 3 jars of salsa or one of each product. They are packaged with care and attention to every minute detail to make this truly a special gift to locals or non locals alike.
Now I’m sure everyone is ready to go pick up some Del Viejo products, so here is where to find them. For those in Saint Augustine, The Ancient Olive, located on 47 King Street, is the primary purveyor of Del Viejo products. Go ahead and plan out a long visit to The Ancient Olive. They are packed floor to ceiling with amazing local products produced by vendors with whom they have personal relationships. I found myself distracted at nearly every table, making lists of all the amazing products that are produced in northeast Florida. For our Jacksonville readers, Del Viejo can be found at Driftwood near Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville Beach and at Pineapple Post which recently relocated to Sawgrass Village. Gift orders including the aforementioned personalized crates and letters can be purchased at https://www.del-viejo.com/. Del Viejo provides us with an excellent chance to shop local and support a truly local product with their perfect showcasing of the datil pepper.
Note: From time to time we’re invited out to try a restaurant or to taste new menu items. This meal is usually comped, as this one was. We’re under no obligation to write a positive review or any review at all when we’re invited out to try a place. Every review you see on our site will be an honest review of the place whether or not the restaurant provided us with the meal at their cost.