The theme of this interview is confiture. Expect a ton of trivia about the correct methods of squishing fruits and a ton of writing about what happens once you start an enchanting culinary business in the midst of urban turmoil and graffiti. Meet Niklas Schmidt, a Neukölln resident, movie maker and owner of “Niklas’ Confiture Extra.”
“Niklas’ Confiture Extra,” a bold introduction to your business! What’s the thought behind the brand name?
It wasn’t a conscious choice, more of a bureaucratic, very German necessity. When I started to create homemade confiture, I thought of the word as merely being a fancy French name. Turns out there’s a German confiture enactment. If you use more than 68 grams of fruit per 100 grams of product, you are obligated to tag your confiture with that silly little word, “extra.” But I’ve grown to like it over time. Confiture contains only three ingredients: Fruit, sugar and lemon juice. It’s only fitting to keep the name as simple as the product.
So the whole start-up idea isn’t as much of a glamorous enterprise as one might think?
It’s exciting and very strange. One example: As hopefully any business owner, I strive for the best possible quality of my raw products. And I really missed having a garden to retreat to after work. You know, cutting back trees, plucking flowers, rather primitive activities to zone out for a bit. So I rented a Schrebergarten (author’s note: “allotment garden”, again, very German word!). It came with a beautiful apple tree, plums, raspberries, blackberries... the more time I spent in there, the better I got to know my fruits. I learned to spot ripe- and richness in flavour and spent hours in the little shed belonging to it to try out new fruit combinations. A great way to reminisce, as I could literally smell and taste the memories of my childhood. It was almost too picturesque. Then German law struck again.
I stumbled across a paragraph of the ‘Konfitürenverordnung’, a set of laws restricting the production of confitures. One of it’s paragraphs states that you are not allowed to work with fruits from allotments for commercial use. You are not even allowed to use your own kitchen, health regulations and such. I had to start from scratch all over again. By chance, I got permission to produce my confitures in a kitchen which is run by nuns. Luckily, Berlin is surrounded by nature, supplying fine quality and local fruits wasn’t a problem. It all came together by a pinch of chance and a ton of improvisation.
You talked about the memories connected to your products. So your passion for confiture started early?
I grew up in the countryside. My family spent most summer holidays at my grandaunt and uncle’s house in Alsace. One of my favorite meals was a big chunk of cheap croissant, you know, the one from those gigantic department stores, buttered with my grandaunt’s mirabelle plum jam. As I grew older, I could not find a satisfying alternative to it, so I started to experiment. And that’s how I found out that it was not actually jam. It was confiture. She had used halved mirabelles, which she cooked in a way that preserved the fruit without destroying it. From that point on, I began to discover the science behind the nostalgia.
Science? As in recipes and such?
Just take a look at this. (He gets up from his chair and rummages around one of his cupboard drawers.)
It’s ...a thermometer?
A refractometer. It measures the sugar content of a fruit. That’s what I mean by science. I never thought I’d go crazy over fruits, but here we are...
What’s your favorite creation so far?
That’s a loaded question, I love all of them of course. You can never go wrong with one of my classic confitures, mirabelle, sour cherry, or raspberry. Holidays are a good time to try out unexpected combinations. For Valentine’s Day, I created “Douceur de sèduction,” a mixture of Pears and Valrhona dark chocolate, paired with aromas of black pepper, candied ginger, honey, and jasmine. And with the Easter holidays just weeks away, you might want to gear up for another bold creation.
You chose quite a rough place to start such a delicate business. Why does Berlin need your confitures?
Well, you know, I never intended to sell anything in the first place. This business started when a friend and café-owner who liked my product advised me to go the entrepreneur route. I am confident in my learning process, but do not intend to become an empire or anything, it is important to me that I am the one making it since my name is on the label. I am in for the fun. The curiosity. The satisfaction of perfecting a creation. The best compliment I can get is if I learn that a customer bought a jar and comes back for more. As Berliners, we might appreciate seemingly insignificant things like confiture in a special way. We are used to the everyday urban frenzy, the supermarket queues. Little things do make a difference. That’s the core of my work: The curiosity for the little things. And the taste, of course. It’s always in the taste.
Niklas sells his confitures in selected cafés and stores.
Find out more about his creations on niklasconfiture.com
Words by Hannah Nieswand
Photography by Saki Tagami
Thank you for your time Niklas & Hannah, what unique insights you've shared. For more stories on creatives and what they're doing in their city, take a peek at our print journal! #acitymadebypeople