Idyllic days in the garden, tending to the vegetables grown in the backyard, was a leisurely activity for Randy Kopke and his wife, Cori. After their own harvest, they often pickled warm-season crops, like cucumbers, to enjoy for themselves and for family and friends. When her brother was getting married in Montauk in 2013, the couple made special pickle jars at his request. “Dill Death Do Us Part” and “We Go Together Like… Bread and Butter” were light yet endearing favors. Today, Kopke shares how the backyard garden became a full-blown agricultural operation as their artisan pickle company, Backyard Brine, continues to expand.
“It basically kind of snowballed from there,” Kopke says after the wedding. “People liked them and wanted to know about them. My wife started going to the IGA in Northport and now in Cutchogue. The guy asked why she was buying so many Kirby cucumbers. It went on from there.”
The garden could no longer sustain what the Kopkes were doing, and the simple conversation at IGA led the Long Island grocer to be among the first to stock Backyard Brine on its shelves. While pickling was a fun business they stumbled into, the couple, who resides in Cutchogue, took it seriously. They studied what it takes to be a specialty food company, studied agriculture at Rutgers Co-Op Extension, and became certified. In 2014, they landed their first shelves in IGA and other local accounts, securing 50 stores that year. In 2015 they added another 100. Today, Backyard Brine has somewhere between 600 and 700 accounts along the east coast.
“We’re growing to be nationwide,” explains Kopke. “But everything is still made in Cutchogue. We have a facility on Cox Lane, for wholesale only, and we’re figuring out our next move for logistics.”
All of Backyard Brine’s pickles are hand packed in small batches using fresh, all natural and local ingredients, originally from their own backyard garden. While there is not currently a retail shop, customers can purchase jars online or at local stores. In Cutchogue, 8 Hands Farm and Braun’s Seafood carry the product. They can also be found at King Kullen, IGA, Whole Foods, Uncle Giuseppe’s, and many other small, independent shops.
Nearly every flavor the Kopkes has attempted for their pickles has been a success. The two original creations for the family wedding are a staple. They also make a jalapeño dill, the “Rowdy Pepper Belly” with habanero dill, “Everything” bread and butter with sesame seed, poppy seed, peppercorn and onion, “Pumpernickel Ry-Ry,” and more.
There are ten flavors in jars currently. Kopke says these were a one-shot deal with the recipes being unchanged from the first time they were made. There are even some unexpected flavors in the lineup. “I do a lot of Southern barbecue,” Kopke says, referencing brisket and pulled pork he makes in his smoker. “It’s just my passion. I had a few friends over and I had put on some pulled pork. A friend said, why not smoke the pickles? So, I tried it. Now we have the ‘Smokey Sienna’s’ smoked jalapeño dill and ‘BBQ Betty Lou’s’ sweet, smokey, and spicy.”
Those two smoked pickle varieties, named after two of the Kopkes’ beloved dogs, began as summer seasonal offerings. Now, they’re year-round, which Kopke finds to be “pretty awesome.”
The pickling process is fairly straightforward. Vinegar pickles take a little fermenting, and are a pretty quick pickle. Cucumber is cut up raw and cold-packed with other raw ingredients. The brine mixture is boiled and then poured into the jar, which then takes a pasteurizing bath and cools overnight. Those pickles are ready in four to five days. The dill pickle variety takes around three weeks before they’re ready to be a proper pickle.
Backyard Brine’s quick ascent to popularity has been a fun ride for the Kopkes. They are particularly proud to remain a local North Fork operation, even as they work on plans for expansion. Community support is one of the driving factors. Plus, what could be more fun than making fresh and crunchy pickles?