Black Gold

Pine Cone Kitchen masterminds craft a culinary rarity.

After spending eight months (involuntarily) in Kenya following an international lockdown in March 2020, the lives of Greg Lusson, 36, and Kayla Burton, 33, faced turmoil back home. Their paid time off had run out, their jobs back in the States no longer were held for them, and their lives as they knew them in San Rafael, Calif., weren’t the same.

So the entrepreneurial couple decided to make a change, to uproot and relocate to Graeagle for a slower pace of life. It wasn’t long before Burton, a personal fitness instructor, and Lusson, a former graphic designer, both fans of culinary science, struck gold in their new town, launching a black garlic empire in the Lost Sierra.

“We’re selling out at every market event,” Lusson says of their in-demand, micro-batch black garlic company called Pine Cone Kitchen. “We can’t really scale up [and] continue [to] micro-batch the way we want to.”

Lusson and Burton toast their business’ expansion in front of Penman Peak in Plumas County

Discovering Black Garlic

Sourcing white garlic from micro-gardens in the mountains and meadows from Quincy to Reno, Lusson and Burton started experimenting with the Maillard reaction (a chemical reaction between amino acids and diminishing sugars that produces a distinctive seared flavor) to pioneer their own process of making black garlic, an umami-rich food that more resembles a truffle or mushroom than garlic.

“We stumbled into it at a ramen house in San Rafael on 4th Street,” Lusson recalls.

At first, Lusson and Burton thought the garlic had been conditioned in soy sauce, but they quickly learned the garlic had undergone a chemical reaction process to produce a caramelized final product that is black in color. Lusson likens it to what happens to the edges of a steak before it burns.

“It’s almost like a raisin version of garlic,” he says, explaining that it evokes tastes of soy sauce or fried onions but is sweeter, with little acidity. “It’s very soft, subtle, and quiet.”

Black garlic is a good complement to charcuterie

An added bonus is the amount of antioxidants typically in garlic increases a great deal after the fermentation process is complete.

Lusson and Burton sell their product jarred by the ounce. They ferment the garlic for no fewer than 60 days and sell it at The Brewing Lair and other local Plumas County spots. Right now, they are working to expand into the Truckee and Tahoe markets.

“After the second batch, it quickly became the talk of the town,” Lusson says, adding that Knotty Pine Tavern in the heart of Graeagle uses the garlic as garnish in their bloody marys, local bakeries bake with it, and the chef at The Resort at Squaw Creek uses it to make sauces, purées, and as a garnish.

Sharing garlicology with the community also is part of the gig.

“Garlicology is interpreting garlic in unfamiliar ways and the art of facilitating the Maillard reaction,” Lusson says. “We reach many more people with our garlicology than we do our garlic.”

While technically residing illegally in Kenya after their visas ran out, and with the U.S. Embassy closed due to COVID-19, Lusson and Burton weren’t sure they’d ever make it back home. They made themselves a promise that if they returned to America, they’d take advantage of the opportunities they’d been neglecting.

“I had no excuse not to give something my dedication and passion,” Lusson says. “Not only do we hope to inspire amateur cooks and professional chefs alike with new garlic applications, but we hope to inspire anyone with a dream to pursue their passions relentlessly.”

Now, about one year into their new venture, that’s exactly what he and Burton have done.

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Nora Heston Tarte is a longtime Reno resident. You can follow her local exploits and travel adventures on Instagram @Wanderlust_n_wine.

Nora Heston Tarte is a longtime Reno resident living on the south side of town. In addition to searching out the best food spots in Reno, her interests include wine, hiking, yoga, and travel. She graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and is pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism. Follow her local exploits and travel adventures on Instagram.


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