Monday, 13 November 2017

Sarson's Factory Tour

Sarson's Factory Tour
I consider myself to be very lucky. I've been writing about my food related adventures for about six years now, and it's led me down some pretty interesting paths; granted this usually involves gluttony and cocktails, but every so often, something really interesting crops up.

Imagine the scene... I'm sat eating my lunch in the cafe at work, when up pops an invite to the Sarson's vinegar factory. It's like a school trip, only I'm an adult! After resisting the urge to pack my walkman and a mini bottle of Tizer, I arrived at Piccadilly to be greeted by the lovely organisers and my fellow bloggers, who to my surprise were from all over the country.

As our taxi pulled up outside the Mizkan factory, the sun shone and the air was full of vinegar. Really, the factory literally emits vinegar from its pores. We were offered tea, biscuits, and the most fetching attire I have seen in some time. Kitted out in steel toe-capped boots, a lab coat, hair net, goggles and ear defenders, we were off to have a nosey round. I was even given a rather chic pair of rubber gloves because of my red gel talons - I've never felt more alive.

So you ready for a little vinegar lesson? Great!

So who the devil are Sarson's?
First thing's first, they are a lovely bunch of people. Everyone we passed seemed to greet each other, and everyone knew each other's names. We were treated to a short history lesson by Caroline, who's genuine enthusiasm was rather infectious. She told us the tale of Thomas Sarson, who set up his vinegar making business back in 1794. George III was on the throne and Nelson lost his eye that summer (I added these facts in. No-one is as geeky as me). They still make Sarson's vinegar in the same way today - that's over 200 years!

How do you make vinegar?Sarson's Factory Tour
Malt: Sarson's vinegar is made with malted barley. Those of you who have been on brewery tours will see little difference at this stage. The starch in the grain is exposed by cracking it. This is called grist.
Sarson's Factory TourMash: Just like brewing beer, the grist is then added to hot water called 'mash', and added to the mash tun. Nature works her magic using the enzymes in the barley, and that starch is turned into sweet water, or 'wort'. This room smells like heaven. It's like Ovaltine pillow spray.
Sarson's Factory TourSarson's Factory TourSarson's Factory TourFermentation: Everything gets cooled, and the yeast is added. If you were making beer, you would throw the hops in at this stage, but things are slightly different for vinegar. It takes six days for the yeast to convert the sugary wort to alcohol, and the yeast is then separated from the 'bright wort'.
Sarson's Factory TourAcetifier: This is the real craftsmanship, which cannot be replaced by an automated system. Good bacteria called acetobacter in these giant wooden vats known as Acetifiers. They're a bit special. More modern stainless steel versions are never going to give the depth of flavour that these do. They're full of wood wool (looks a bit like sawdust), which turns the alcohol into acetic acid, which gives us that vinegary taste we are all familiar with. This process takes seven days, whereas most competitors complete the process in 24 hours.Sarson's Factory TourBottling: The vinegar is then standardised to 5% acid (the British standard) and pasteurised before being bottled and boxed.Sarson's Factory TourFor more info, see https://www.sarsons.co.uk/how-vinegar-is-made.
I had a great day with Sarson's and my blogging amigos. It really made me think about other big brands, and question the whole 'are supermarket own brands' really given the same care and attention? Maybe not all brands are produced with the same love as Sarson's, but I know I'll never buy another brand after meeting the people who work there.

Thank you for allowing us into your little world, it was a pleasure.
Sarson's Factory Tour

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