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The Yummiest Factory in the World! Niederegger Marzipan
Several years ago I had the privilege of touring the Yummiest Factory in the World - Niederegger Marzipan in Lübeck, Germany. Time has gone on since then but I can still conjure up the smell of sweet roasting almonds and rich German chocolate!
I was impressed by the harmony of old and new in the factory - state of the art machinery running along side centuries old traditions. The people working there seemed genuinely happy and everywhere you looked there were Marzipan candies going by - on conveyer belts, on trolleys, in boxes.
The Niederegger "factory" is in the city of Lübeck in northern Germany. But is "factory" the right word? When I think "factory" I think dust, sweat, noise. And because I grew up in a family that manufactured windows and doors - I think wood and sawdust and roaring saws.
Niederegger is not that kind of factory - it is more like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!
My gracious hosts - Bettina and Kathrin - dressed me up in Niederegger colored jacket and hair net and led me to the very start of the process. Along the route they smiled and waved to everyone. Bettina had been with the company for 16 years and Kathrin for 2 1/2 and they were both obviously and wonderfully proud of their company.
Since that trip Niederegger has continued to grow and change. A recent article in the German business newspaper Handelsblatt Global talked with the new heads of the family owned company - sisters Antonie Strait and Theresa Mehrens-Strait, the eighth generation to manage the business.
With Marzipan it all starts with almonds. In the peak Christmas season Niederegger outputs 30 tonnes of Marzipan treats every day - so you can imagine how many almonds are coming in the door. The nuts are inspected visually and women with keen eyes and nimble fingers pluck out unpeeled almonds or nuts with dark spots. Only the best raw ingredients go into Niederegger Marzipan.
Almonds are crushed twice...crushed not ground so the texture of the nut is not lost. Sugar is added...but the amount of sugar is mandated by regulations. In order to claim the title of Lübecker Marzipan the almond treat cannot contain more than 1/3 sugar. If you look at the ingredient list on less expensive Marzipan you will see that sugar is the first thing listed - not so with Niederegger.
The crushed almonds are then roasted in copper pots in small batches; large paddles mix in the sugar and a secret ingredient that I was not allowed to see! Rose water is also added to the more premium Marzipans and my guess on the secret ingredient is the rose water!
We made a key stop in the tour here at the copper roasting pans and Willie Wonka himself (I'm sure it was him!) pulled a ladle of warm, soft Marzipan out for me to taste. And there and then began my love affair with Marzipan!
We strolled through the rest of the process - me being a little high on the Marzipan I had just eaten and the sweet nutty smell that wafted everywhere. All along the way we chatted with men and women who took great pride in their work and their company and their city. I noticed that there were no overweight people in the factory. My hosts had told me that Niederegger employees may eat as much Marzipan as they like so long as it is not already wrapped. Bettina and Kathrin also explained that during peak season much of the factory shuts down for a few minutes at 11 AM for Sport (in German "shport"!) - when everyone gets up to stretch and refresh. Thought that was a good idea!
I was not allowed to take any photographs while inside the factory. I can see why - some of the equipment is proprietary and Niederegger wouldn't want their secrets falling into the wrong hands. But there were so many great photo opps - the little Marzipan hearts getting coated with chocolate in preparation for Valentines, the chocolate covered Marzipan eggs being wrapped in colorful foils and packed into boxes for Easter, the little Marzipan bunnies having their eyes painted on by hand...
Niederegger's classy packaging uses their signature red colour that can especially be seen in some of their most popular items like the Classic Minis and the Marzipan Loaves. The logo is based on the well-known Tower (in German "Tor") in the city of Lübeck. The whole look is stylish and modern while celebrating the long history of their company and the almond confection itself.
There is so much to tell about the tour, the treat and the history of the company never mind about the beautiful city of Lübeck. But that for other Blogs!
At the end of the tour Bettina and Kathrin took for me for Kaffee und Kuchen to the Marzipanerie attached to the factory. In addition to being able to buy all manner of Marzipan treats at this little shop they served devastatingly good Marzipan tortes and Americanos (they probably served other coffees but Americanos are all I drink!).
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