MONTREAL - The Oreo cookie is an iconic food like the Big Mac, Ritz Cracker and a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup. Chances are, we’ve all eaten an Oreo. There may even be a package in your pantry right now. Granted, they’re not politically correct homemade cookies filled with wheat germ, oatmeal or even Belgian bittersweet chocolate, but a factory-bred cookie made with white flour, sugar and unhealthy fats. That said, there’s nothing quite like twisting the top off of an Oreo cookie, or enjoying a handful with a tall glass of milk after a hard day. Well, at least that’s what my 7-year-old says.
Tuesday marked the 100th anniversary of this beloved biscuit, and to celebrate the occasion the producer of all the Oreos that sell in Canada, the Montreal Christie Brown facility (in operation since 1956 and located next to the Big O), opened its doors for the first time to journalists interested in seeing how this cookie is made. We’re miles away from haute cuisine here, yet I couldn’t resist a glimpse of a foodstuff fabricated to the tune of 3,000 two-biscuit, icing-stuffed cookies per minute.
Canada is the fourth biggest market for the Oreo after the U.S., China and – get this – Venezuela. In 2011, the Oreo drew in a whopping $2 billion in profits worldwide. Sold in more than 100 countries, Oreos are customized to each market’s tastes, so you’ll find green-tea-ice-cream-flavoured Oreos in China, banana and dulce de leche Oreos in Argentina and chocolate and peanut Oreos in Indonesia. According to Oreo, 50 per cent of all Oreo eaters twist apart the cookies before eating, the majority of those twisters being women. The other 50 per cent just bite into the cookie whole. And here’s another little fun Oreo fact for you: on the face of each cookie, there are 12 flowers stamped in the design. What fun!
On arrival at the Viau St. factory, we were outfitted with lab coats, hair nets, ear plugs and shoe coverings. Upon entering the extremely noisy production facility, we were led past Wheat Thin cracker sorters, towering ovens, mixers and vats of flour, sugar and dough. More clinical than the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wonderland I expected, this 300,000-square-foot factory is impressive nonetheless.
Our first stop was a large bathtub-sized container containing 937 kilograms of Oreo cookie dough that had a definite resemblance to topsoil. It was destined to produce 120,000 Oreos. Whoa. That dough is then broken up and set on a conveyor belt from which it is fed into a machine that shapes and stamps the cookies with the classic flower design.
The raw cookies are then fed into an oven, and not just any oven but a 280-foot-long oven that ranges in temperature from 270F to 490F, thus ensuring the cookie’s super crisp texture. Once baked, half the cookies are flipped and diverted into two areas, half being “the tops” and the rest being “the bottoms” ready for sandwiching. The bottoms then receive a squirt of the famous white Oreo frosting made of icing sugar, oil and vanilla. The top biscuit is then set on top of the frosting and yet another Oreo cookie is born.
Thirty cookies are stacked to fill each tray, which is then dropped into Oreo bags and sealed. The full process from start to finish takes 90 minutes.
More than 1 million Oreo cookies are made every eight-hour shift in the Montreal factory, and 500 Montrealers work in the factory, with 125 employees dedicated to the production of Oreo cookies.
To celebrate this century of sweets, Oreo has produced a limited edition “birthday cake” cookie. With more of a chocolate cake taste and sprinkles in the icing, this new Oreo, along with the all-vanilla Oreo Gold cookie, is even better than the classic version. Deep down inside, though, my heart belongs to Fudgee-Os, which are also made in the same Montreal facility.
That said, I discovered there are Oreos and there are Oreos. At the end of the tour, plant manager Michel Cartier handed me a bag of cookies fresh off the factory line to taste at home. “Do you ever tire of Oreos?” I asked him. “Never,” he replied. Faithful employee, I figured, until I tasted those minutes-old cookies he handed me. Unbelievably crisp on the outside, melting withinand with a great bitter-chocolate flavour offset by the sweet frosting, this ebony and ivory biscuit really does offer one heck of a delicious
olfactory experience. With Oreos this fresh at hand, I’m not sure I’d get sick of them, either.
One thing is certain, though, you won’t find me twisting them apart. I’m an eat-them-whole Oreo girl, all the way...........................................................Cheers ! HF&RV ,..........-Les