Orgone Research

Friday, September 15, 2006

Tabasco Tour

Twice now, Dana and I have visited Avery Island LA, where the Tabasco company is located. To get onto the island, a one dollar toll is taken as one crosses the bridge. Avery Island is not much of an island, as the distance across the water is only about 50 feet! Nevertheless, the tour is worthwhile, free, and I recommend it.

First of all, growing up in Montana, Tabasco sauce was considered a slightly exotic condiment by our family. My father told me that some cutting edge folks would put one drop of the precious fluid on the yolks of their fried eggs.... You see, my father had a subscription for many years to Gourmet magazine, so he was reasonably "up" on the cutting edge of fine foods. Gourmet magazine is half way to being a travel magazine, with lots of photo spreads of exotic locations. So I was prepared to like the Tabasco tour.

The tour is quite popular, with perhaps 40 people showing up for the particular tour we were on. After a brief introduction by our tour guide, we are led into a small movie theatre, where a well dressed female talking head in the movie gave a very slick "color" type presentation. Then we were led past the actual bottling plant, separated from the hallway by a floor to ceiling glass pane. We were there on Sunday, so the "line" was down. Tabasco production is actually very simple, and is not like making cars or computers. It's really just pepper harvesting, grinding, mixing with salt and vinegar, fermenting in barrels, and finally bottling the result after several years.

If there was a Q & A period I missed it, as what I really wanted to know was whether the wooden barrels were a necessity, like those used for distilled alcohol, or whether they are simply cheaper than some other kind of barrel. Also, exactly what kind of "fermentation" is going on? Gas bubbles rise from the barrels during fermentation, and a thick layer of salt is put on the top to keep out air and impurities. But surely alcoholic fermentation is not going on, what exactly is going on chemically? Obviously this is way to technical for a consumer oriented tour, but I'd like to know.

I have to confess at this point that I'm not a big fan of Tabasco! It simply has too much vinegar for my tastes, and it's really not very hot. But surprise, surprise, the Tabasco company has way more products for sale than just the original sauce. As one finishes the tour, you are led into the gift shop, where one can sample all the products they make. They must make at least a dozen products, like barbecue sauce, other hot sauces, spicy mustards, and even spicy jelly. They make a habanero sauce which is pretty good.

For me the highlight is the chipotle sauce. Chipotle is made from smoked jalapeno peppers, and has a much "darker" and "richer" taste than the original sauce. I highly recommend it. In fact, I liked it so much we bought a gallon of it on our first trip! The gallon lasted about a year, as I'm fond of putting an ounce or two into a bowl of gumbo. Dana & I bought another gallon on this trip.

I had a rather unusual introduction into the world of hot. As you might imagine, growing up in Montana does not afford one many opportunities to partake in spicy food. One does not usually put Tabasco sauce on one's brains and eggs while dining at Missoula's finest dining establishment, the Oxford. I first heard about the veneration of chillis by reading Andres Weil's The Marriage of the Sun and Moon, a collection of essays about drugs and consciousness. The notion that one could get a buzz by eating chillis was mind blowing to me, and I had to try it. Damn, if it doesn't work! Kind of like doing a sideshow act, your have to "have your mind right" in order to have a successful result. If you don't have your mind right it will burn like a mofo, and you will think the whole enterprise is stupid. I was able to get dried Japanese "Hontaka" peppers from the Butterfly herb in Missoula. Everyone else thought I was a freak, but it was cheap, not dangerous, and legal.

From there, it was a easy transition to enjoy hot sauces on food, as one's tolerance is greatly increased when one goes all out by eating chillis. I once won a Cinco de Mayo chilli pepper eating contest at a local Azteca Mexican restaurant, but it was really no big deal, as the chillis were just jalapenos.

If you like hot food, try the Tabasco chipotle sauce.


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