Last week, I had the opportunity to take a trip out to Orville, Ohio with a few other bloggers and take an inside look at the Smuckers company. Smuckers is known for their jam, but what you might not know is that the family-owned company actually owns quite a few other brands, including Crisco, Jif, Folgers and Eagle Brand, just to name a few of the most well-known. The event that Smuckers put on for us was just wonderful, giving us a preview of some new products, a change to test out some of their existing products, tour their test kitchens and even take a trip through the factory while they made a batch of seasonal Apple Cider Butter, the recipe that started the Smuckers brand off almost 100 years ago.
We started off our tour at the Smuckers store, pictured above. The store is a fully operational store and cafe, but it is also a huge showcase for all kinds of Smuckers products that you won’t necessarily see in stores because they’re regional or simply on limited distribution. There were all the standard jams, of course, but also organic jams and more gourmet lines, such as (my favorite) Smuckers Orchards Finest. I’m a sucker for food shopping no matter where I am, and it was fun to look through all their products. The store had been decorated for Christmas and cleverly incorporated jam into several of their decorations. The chandelier pictured here is made with jars of jam!
Smuckers is still owned by the same family that started it so many years ago and Richard Smucker is a 4th generation Smucker, as well as the current co-CEO with his brother, Tim. Mark Smucker, to my right in this photo, is a 5th generation family member. Richard and Mark, along with Mark’s sister, were kind enough to join us for breakfast, chat about our blogs and point us in the direction of some of their favorite items, like Tart Cherry Preserves (yum, by the way)
After tooling around the store for a bit longer, and taking a peek a the little Smuckers history museum in the back, we headed over to their headquarters to begin the tour in earnest. We sat through a presentation about some of the different products that Crisco offers and some of the benefits of using shortening. I personally like it for greasing pans, but didn’t know that it is kosher, and both dairy free and gluten free. I also wasn’t really aware that Crisco has several types of olive oil, sourced primarily from Spain. We were treated to an olive oil taste testing, and given a bit of coaching on the flavors – fruitiness and bitterness, primarily – they look for when creating a blend. Olive oil tasting is similar to a wine tasting in that you’re supposed to slurp, swirl and spit out the sample. They were all very good and if I had just had some bread for dipping, I wouldn’t have left any in my sample cups!
Following the tasting, we got down to some real food. The test kitchen had prepared an entire holiday meal for us using Smuckers products, including two turkeys. The food was great and really put me in the mood to start doing my own holiday cooking, but even better was that the test kitchen had gone out of their way to bake up a batch of one of my recipes! On the table for everyone to try was a batch of the Jelly Donut Muffins from The Baking Bites Cookbook!
Following the feast, we were treated to a hands-on cake and cookie decorating activity, as well as a coaching session with some of the photographers and stylists who work with Smuckers, shooting their products on a regular basis. They gave us a few tips on what to look for when styling our own food at home: aim for warm lighting, use tweezers to fill in any holes or pull out errant crumbs, and use different combinations of plate styles, plate colors and cloth for interesting photo backgrounds.
After lunch, we headed back into the test kitchen for some more product samples, this time of some of the “healthier” options that the company puts out, including Jif with Omega-3 and some reduced sugar Pillsbury baking mixes. They’re working on some gluten free mixes, but it was interesting to find out that Jif is actually already gluten free (not something I would ordinarily think about, but great to know for those interested in gluten free cooking!). We also got to go into the test kitchen itself, where head chef Cynthia gave us an impromptu turkey carving lesson while we checked out their store of spices, their appliances and some of the samples they were working on that had been left out.
Finally, we were able to get to one of the things I most wanted to do on my visit: take a tour of the factory. The experience was like being inside an episode of the Food Network TV show Unwrapped. Their factory runs 24 hours a day and tours aren’t a normal part of the agenda. We had to don special, and very stylish, outfits (see above photo) to keep both us and the jam safe. I can’t understand why I was the only one who wanted to have a photo taken in my factory-tour outfit. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take the camera inside to take pictures of the step-by-step process, but it was a real treat to see them making apple cider butter from start to finish and an even bigger treat to be able to smell the sweet, slightly spicy aroma all over the grounds while they worked. It was a great way to end the day.
The other bloggers who attended included Jenny from Picky Palate, Erin from 5 Dollar Dinners, Nikki from Art and Lemons, Tanya from Mommy Goggles, Shannon from The Mommy Files, Jennifer from The Dirty Shirt, Stacy from Mommy Central and Amanda from Mommy Mandy. Be sure to take a look at their blogs for their perspectives on the event and even more photos of the activities. I put up a lot more photos in a Flickr gallery that is worth a peek if you’re interested in seeing even more behind-the-scenes shots. I had a great time eating, learning and visiting with everyone during the trip. Hopefully there will be a part 2 sometime in the not-too-distant future with even more backstage info to share!