Everything’s Coming Up Vanilla Beans….At Nielsen-Massey!

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.   

Matt Nielsen

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!   


Vickie Meets Chef Eric Lanlard

Chef Eric Lanlard, famous UK bakery chef who is also known as “ Cake Boy“, has been on a whirlwind  U.S. book tour promoting his latest book, Tart It Up!.  I must admit, even the name of the cookbook intrigued me.  But,  when the chance to meet Chef Eric was coupled with the opportunity to tour the Nielsen Massey Vanilla plant in Waukegan, Il AND meet Beth, Matt and Craig Nielsen–this girl was in the car, headed to Waukegan!

Vickie with Chef Eric Lanlard

Chef Eric’s new book, Tart It Up!, is full of over 75 savory and sweet pie and tart recipes.  Chef Eric says, ”  In this book you will find not only great recipes and tips for making the best pastry but also the inspiration for delicious tarts and pies that I’ve collected over the years…..I hope you will like them as much as my friends do.”

 The Nielsen-Massey event was attended by media and food bloggers along with a bus load load of French pastry students from the Culinary Institute.  It was so exciting to watch Chef Eric create his baking masterpieces and listen as he shared his passion for pastry with us.    

The Tart It Up!  Event and the tour of the Nielsen Massey plant can be found under my other posts.

“Nielsen Massey Event:  Tart It Up! :  Big Success”

“Everything’s Coming up Vanilla Beans….At Nielsen Massey!”

Tart It Up!   by Eric Lanlard. ( Octopus Books:  July 2012)  $ 19.99 



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