Every baker knows that Nielsen-Massey vanillas are synonymous with quality. I recently had the opportunity to tour the plant which is located in Waukegan, Il. From the moment I stepped inside the Nielsen Massey plant, I was hit with the wonderful smell of vanilla. It was almost enough to make this home baker swoon with delight!
Matt Nielsen, one of the three Nielsen siblings who now run the operation, was kind enough to take us around the plant.
Our happy group of foodies donned our white hair nets and stepped into the pristine stainless steel world of vanilla production. We saw tank after tank processing vanilla extract right in front of us. Matt explained the origins of the various vanillas Nielsen Massey produces. One of Nielsen-Massey’s specialties is their single-source vanilla extracts made from beans grown in just one region. They produce specialized extracts from Mexico, Tahiti and Madagascar — each with a special and unique flavor. As we stood with the stainless steel tanks in front of us, I was overwhelmed when I saw the crates and crates of whole vanilla beans stacked behind us. Matt opened one of the crates and passed around a bundle of vanilla beans for us to touch and smell…..
Vanilla beans are the fruit of the vanilla orchid – which must be pollinated by hand in order to produce the vanilla beans. This is a very time and labor intensive crop and can only be grown in a very limited portion of the world.
Matt Nielsen graciously educated us on the vanilla extract process and also on the history of this century-old , family run company. He proudly explained that Nielsen uses a “cold extraction” method, with alcohol as a solvent, so different concentrations of alcohol and pure water are added to and then taken off the crushed beans. The entire process is automated and takes 3 to 5 weeks.
Matt explained that the home cook should store vanilla out of direct sunlight and heat. If properly stored, vanilla will last almost indefinitely. Vanilla beans should be stored at room temperature – never refrigerated.
With the holidays fast approaching, check out Nielsen-Massey vanillas and flavorings for your baking needs!