My husband and I caught the tail-end of a 60 Minutes segment that featured a trip to the TABASCO Factory in Louisiana. What we heard was that this is the only place in the world where TABASCO sauce is manufactured and we were intrigued enough to think that we needed to make a visit there, too.
As it turns out, the TABASCO Factory is only a 2-1/2 hour drive from New Orleans. Located on Avery Island, it is actually a small facility of 200 salaried employees who churn out 400,000 bottles a day to ship to 183 countries in the world. We tend to use the term ‘tabasco sauce’ for any hot pepper sauce, but TABASCO sauce is only manufactured in one spot in the world. The peppers they use are grown from seeds they send out to spots in Central and South America, but the manufacturing and bottling is all done in Louisiana.
The free factory tour is a little disappointing in itself. There are a few display cases to peruse before you file into a screening room and watch a 20-minute film on the history of the McIlhenny family and the origin of the TABASCO brand. Once the film is over, you walk down a corridor where you can look through the glass window at the factory floor and see bottles being filled by machine. But that only takes about 5 minutes and the whole thing is done. Not worth a 2-1/2 hour drive, which is too bad, because the process is pretty interesting.
The peppers are harvested when they match the hue of the “petit baton rouge.” They are then mashed and stored in old barrels from the Jack Daniels’ distillery for 3 years. The barrels of mash are covered with a thick layer of salt to protect it from any infestation or impurities and the salt comes straight from Avery Island, too, which is built on a salt dome and is therefore a ‘hill’ along the flat coastal plains of Louisiana.
It takes 3 years before the barrel is opened and vinegar is added. Like a fine wine, TABASCO sauce cannot be rushed. But the tourists can be, and we all left the factory viewing area to head to the Country Store where we could sample all types of pepper sauces, jalapeno pepper-flavored ice cream, and a variety of other samples. My husband and I didn’t try too many. We were about to embark on a TABASCO Food Tour, so we didn’t want to singe our tastebuds too quickly. We did, however, buy a bag of TABASCO-tinged wood chips from one of the old dismantled barrels. We cooked out a week later at home and could taste the smoky hints of it on our grilled tomatoes and corn.
Coming up next, I’ll write about the Food Tour. But first, I’d love to know what foods you’d add TABASCO to? Does pepper-flavored ice cream sound good to you?