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One of the most modern industrial pastry plants in Switzerland allowed me to spend a morning with them - with my camera. Feel like making 7000 Napoleons? Follow me in.
Page1  2  

Fruit Pie

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Who would eat fruit pies were it not for the custard?

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Our giant conveyor belt now carries fruit pies from the cradle to the gullet.

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See the 360° Panorama (1.5 Mb fullscreen)! These guys were manning the fruit-covering detail.

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This guy seemed to have great fun spraying liquid jelly on top of the cakes with his pistol. 'You're the man with the jelly gun', I told him. 'That's me', he replied.

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This gentleman was dredging the sides of the fruit pies with almonds. As I was taking his picture, he asked me 'For what newspaper is it?' I explained it was for a website in English and he laughed 'So I won't be famous just yet then!'



The Black Forrest Ladies

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How many times have I turned up at a birthday party as a kid and seen the dreaded Forêt Noire ('Black Forrest') Pie on the table? I try to forget. But, hey, kids take a few years before they can tell the good pies from the others. And there are some die-hard Black Forrest Pie addicts out there. Let's see how it's made.

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A printed production sheet specifies the quantities to be made and when it starts and finishes. Things work like clocks in Switzerland. A friends Italian grandma used to say that 'At least during Mussolini's time, trains got on time'. Well here they always got on time.

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This here young lady takes a pile of chocolate sponge cake her colleagues baked during the night shift a couple hours before.

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Ah, my heart will always stop for a lady with a gun. She fires away, spraying the inside with kirsch. The pies are then filled with a white cream and alcohol-soaked cherries, then the sides are covered in chocolate flakes.

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We called this lady the Black Forest Lady as she was so eager to make these pies. Always harboring a lovely smile, you could tell she just love the product. How many pies do you make a day, I asked. 'On Thursday, about 100 pies.' 'I suppose they are popular for birthdays', I replied. 'But you can eat them on regular days too' she protested with a self-conscious smile.

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Click on the panorama and scroll laterally to see the action (150Kb Jpeg, 2000 pixels wide).

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Here is the end product bought in a COOP store the next day. This is a very good example of the type of pastry most people eat in Switzerland. Sure, we also have fancy artisan pastry chefs, but their prices put their products out of reach for most people.



Eclairs

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As soon as she was over with the pies, the Black Forest Lady started filling cofee éclairs.

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Undoubtedly, she is the lady people turn to for the more delicate operations in this factory. One by one, she filled the pâte à choux shells with coffee or chocolate cream, a very filling filling. She then moved the trays in the back of the giant hall, near this corner on a large table

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Minutes later, a man was busy icing each éclair one by one.

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Completed products are boxed, labelled and laid one by one in gray plastic crates that are moved automatically on a labyrinthine automated tray system of Pentagonal proportions.
Click image to see a 2000-pixels-wide panorama (Jpeg, 150Kb).

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Other pies with a longer lifespan are stored overnight in a drive-in fridge.


I saw many others things that day, none of which turned me off apart from gargantuan scale of things. A gentleman was preparing the filling for one local Lake Geneva specialty COOP only makes for this region - tart à la crême, a flat pie filled with caramelized cream. In a giant mixer, he mixes sugar, cream and starch closes a security grate around the giant head, then plays with the dials to set up speed and mixing time. This will certainly not beat your grandma's homebaked cream pie, but here they use only quality products and do this with care and pride. Nothing to be ashamed of and I'm sure that the pies that will come out of this caldron will make many people happy all around Lake Geneva on the next day.

In other parts of the factory, we saw this other lady soaking sponge cakes in rhum. Giant trays held other cakes. Then a copper pot of boiling caramel and a block of icing for the (seven hundred) thousand layers cakes.

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A battery of tools fit to feed a battalion and neatly placed on racks.

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2000-pixels-panorama of the tools racks (Jpeg, 150Kb).

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The washroom where the equipment is scrupulously washed from dusk till dawn and dawn till dusk.

This pastry plant is not opened to the public although you can book tours of the logistics facility in which it is located. I received the warmest welcome at this factory and everybody I met smiled and seemed to be pleased to work there. The batches are relatively small so there is no repetitive task. You do a Japanese Pie for an hour, then move to a thousand-layer-cake, then go ice some choux, all this in a group of people. Nice working conditions and the cleanest factory East of Silicon Valley. To enter the facility you need to wear a white overall with a special hat. If you need to eat, smoke, drink or pee, you have to leave the facilty and come back through the airlock, the only way in. The airlock will open only after you have placed both hands in the holes of machine that sprays them with disinfectant, waits and then releases the door. We don't joke about hygiene here!

Published 01/05/2008
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50 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by trx
  • on: 30/04/2008
Sweatshop!
  • #2
  • Comment by Paul Mckenna
  • on: 30/04/2008
Most impressed.
I briefly worked in a bakery in Holland that was alive with cockroaches.
This place looks outstanding.

Paul
  • #3
  • Comment by parshu
  • on: 30/04/2008
Lovely combination of industry and craft. Allowing you to shoot in such a detailed manner was the strongest affirmation of their hygiene standards. By 2050 some predict India will be the third largest economy in the world. I would rather it turn into 100,000 Switzerlands like this one than become one giant-like US or China.
  • #4
  • Comment by bigdady92
  • on: 30/04/2008
It's a sweatshop of LOVE! Dear god I'd gorge myself for hours like a fat commie in that place.
  • #5
  • Comment by Ben
  • on: 30/04/2008
The lots of people aren't wearing gloves!

The whole factory looks so clean and organised, not mad like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory...
  • #6
  • Comment by Xavier
  • on: 30/04/2008
Nice work ! I always enjoy to see behind the curtains and have a a lot of respect for industrial food processing. Scale appart, it doesn't seem to be that different from an artisanal bakery.
By the way, a friend of mine just make me discovered your blog and it's a great pleasure to follow it. I like your capacity to enjoy both fine and more rustic (but stylish) food and to share it with us.
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/04/2008
TRX, from my understanding of the word 'sweat shop', it is hardly appropriate. A proper sweatshop is a cramped, ill-ventilated space where swarms of underpaid illegal immigrants toil 20 hours a day. Really nothing to do with this beautiful, state of the art factory that recalls a silicon chips manufacturing plant. People are happy to work here and their work is interesting and diverse.
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/04/2008
Paul, I don't think a coackroach would last more than a minute in this place, they probably have a battery of computer-operated laser beams to take them out!
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/04/2008
Parshu, after having visited your native state of Kerala I can only share the optimistic vision of those who predict India will turn into a modern economy some day. I must say that despite appearances Indians have a very thorough and serious  practice of food hygiene. It just takes different forms and the reasons people give for not sharing cups with strangers when drinking tea on the streets are caste or religion, but the practical effect is to limit contamination. Of course there is more than practical considerations behind religions and customs, but I am constantly amazed to see these Indian men juggle with liquid poured from the air into their mouth with the lips never in contact with the cups!
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/04/2008
Big Daddy, unfortunately no eating is allowed in the factory. But I am confident you can get your weight in Napoleon scrapings to take home!
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/04/2008
Ben, people are not wearing gloves because they don't need to. Hand hygiene is guaranteed by a curious machine at the entrance that unlocks the door only after you have placed both hands in for a thourough aspersion of disinfectant. You just cannot enter the facility unless you do that, and every time you go for a break, a fag, a snack or a visit to the loo, you need to exit the premises and go through the machine again on your way back.
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/04/2008
Xavier, thanks for your visit! As a student you must have had the opportunity to sample the COOP's fine products. I just love this supermarket! Soon I'll post another serie about their baking facility. I think it is quite inevitable that in the world there are fine, home-cooked, slow foods and also regular, more affordable, processed foods. Not everybody can wait 4 hours to do Bolognese sauce the old-fashioned way.
  • #13
  • Comment by JD
  • on: 30/04/2008
"Big Daddy, unfortunately no eating is allowed in the factory. But I am confident you can get your weight in Napoleon scrapings to take home!"
Yes, I know full well  I would scoop handfuls of Napoleon scrapings into my maw like Jabba the F'n Hutt. Is it common to have the Éclair's have chocolate instead of custard filling like they do in the states or is that just something different they made that day?


This was a truly fascinating post, not least because it was actually posted tomorrow (1/5/08) according to the time stamp, or does Lake Geneva have its own time zone?

It's also fun to note how pastries can be lost in translation, or at least altered rather drastically. A Schwarzwaldtårta (Black Forest cake) in my native country Sweden is three layers of hazelnut dacquoise with whipped cream in between, and grated chocolate on top. Not a trace of neither cherries nor Kirschwasser (alas, there is not a trace of Kirschwasser in Sweden at all). A rather bland contraption.
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/04/2008
JD, there are only two traditional éclairs in France - chocolate and coffee. I recently saw a young Japanese pastry chef who set up shop in Paris and offered Japanese green tea flavored éclairs, but that is very uncommon.
  • #16
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/04/2008
Daniel, tomorrow thursday is a festive day in Switzerland and I wanted to publish this article for the first day of May. Instead of waiting until tomorrow before activating it, I let you guys see the world of tomorrow - today!
  • #17
  • Comment by Sebastian
  • on: 30/04/2008
Awesome stuff, François! I especially love the quicktimeless panorama pictures!

For those concerned about all those nude hands, let it be said that actually, your hands are quite clean as far as microorganisms are concerned - especially when they've been properly washed and disinfected. Even in biology laboratories where contaminations and sterile techniques are an issue, gloves are mostly worn to protect your hands from the stuff you're working with (if necessary), and not the other way around. ;)
  • #18
  • Comment by Luci
  • on: 30/04/2008
Francois, you've done it again!  This is such an interesting article and great insight into Swiss culture.  Thank you!
  • #19
  • Comment by Lyra
  • on: 01/05/2008
This is really fascinating as always, and I do like the new panoramic photos that you have been taking. When I was a kid in Belize I went on a tour of a sugar factory-the thing I remember best was a big old warehouse, with a 2 story pile of sugar on the concrete floor. You could just see it through a crack in the doors (which were chained shut). Through that crack marched a tiny column of ants. I imagine those were the happiest ants in the world. It smelled like molasses and burnt sugar for a mile around the factory-very Willy Wonka! Seems like a waste to feed all that pastry to the pigs, have they ever thought of selling it cheap with some cool marketing name? The taste is just as good...they just dont have those precision edges!
  • #20
  • Comment by Sean
  • on: 01/05/2008
Pork that have been fed a luxurious diet since piglets are considered to be a luxury food itself in Chinese cuisine. I wonder what napoleon-fed pigs taste like... hmm
  • #21
  • Comment by Paul Mckenna
  • on: 01/05/2008
In the UK you used to be able to buy big plastic bags of broken biscuits.
I would willingly pay for a bag of Napoleon offcuts.

I may have no class but I eat every day of the week.

Paul
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/05/2008
Sebastian, thanks for your comment! These guys definitely have super clean hands and I don't think germs of any kind find their way into the factory in sufficient quantities to pose any hygiene problem.
  • #23
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/05/2008
Luci, thanks for visiting, I think this is one aspect of Swiss culture that is not often seen by tourists!
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/05/2008
Lyra, your sugar mountain sounds very intriguing, if it still exists I'd love to be an ant there! Some chocolate factories sell the defective products to local students, but financially I don't think it makes much difference since the real product is so cheap anyway, and the factory is not in a city center.
  • #25
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/05/2008
Sean, I think these Napoleon-fed pigs would be fit for an Emperor.
  • #26
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/05/2008
Paul, the Napoleon is a high wire pastry act where you try to keep the puff pastry crispy even though it is surrounded by thick layer of pastry cream. I think the scrapings turn very fast into a spongy mess and lose all crispiness!
  • #27
  • Comment by Martin
  • on: 02/05/2008
Nice article! I spontaneously fell in love with the Kirsch Gun Lady. My wildest dreams come true (not to think of the jelly gun).
My sister once worked in a factory which produced meals for airplanes. She told me that they were throwing away literally tons of food for no good reasons (except for very strict regulations on exactly when a yoghurt is still eatable and when not). I am glad to hear that they at least leave the unsellable parts to the pigs.
  • #28
  • Comment by don siranni
  • on: 02/05/2008
Fx.,This article prompted me to ask if elsewhere you have a full article on how to make,at home,puff pastry-intended for meat pies?If not,could you plan one someday?Your unique photo/description would be the only way I'll ever make it.thanks don
  • #29
  • Comment by gizmar
  • on: 03/05/2008
It's highly impressive to see not only a state of the art facility but also one that adheres so strictly to such a code of hygiene.  What a pleasure.  Great pictures.  This must have been an incredible experience for you.  I'm sure I would have been in awe the whole duration of the visit.
  • #30
  • Comment by cher.128
  • on: 03/05/2008
Bravo and many thank you's for this wonderful pastry excursion. You have gifted us!
Bravo to the many people working in the facility as well!
I live in New Jersey (United States) and if it weren't for my skill in pastry making, I would "never" have wonderful pastry to eat and enjoy.
A blessing indeed to live where there is such pastry bounty!!!
Thank You so much again.
  • #31
  • Comment by andreea
  • on: 04/05/2008
Lovely post. I have never been in a cake factory and now got to peek. Love it. Educational and tasty :)
  • #32
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 04/05/2008
Martin, thanks for visiting and I'll try to get you the Kirsch Gun Lady's phone number!
  • #33
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 04/05/2008
Don, you can see how puff pastry is made in my Kouign Aman article, it takes many hours but not as much work as people usually think. Much better than savory short dough!
  • #34
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 04/05/2008
Gizmar, this was indeed a memorable visit and the people who run and work in this factory can definitely be proud of their job. I'll try to post another article about the baking plant (bread only) - even more impressive I'm told!
  • #35
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 04/05/2008
Cher, do not yearn too much for industrial pastry, it is never as good as you can bake in your oven at home. Even the most humble home-baked cookies will always beat industrial products. But if you don't bake, then of course it's nice to have a substitute!
  • #36
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 04/05/2008
Andreea, thanks for visiting! just love to visit industries and have many plans to make more food industry articles in the future.
  • #37
  • Comment by Malika
  • on: 07/05/2008
Thank you so much for showing us your visit to this amazing factory! Amazing! If I was there myself, I think I would taste everything! Did you try any of the cakes?
  • #38
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 08/05/2008
Malika, thanks for visiting! It is totally forbidden to eat anything in the factory, not even lick your fingers, and I had to buy some of the pastry the next day at the supermarket. They taste just as they look I guess.
  • #39
  • Comment by Gemma
  • on: 10/05/2008
Wow, yummy... those napoleons... I would've take some home at the end of the day myself (are they allowed to do that?) Just wanted to say, I love your blog so much, it enables me to explore the culinary world without spending any money - I really appreciate everything that you've done ... hrmmm.... Maybe you could go into a CHOCOLATE factory next time to see how they are made....awwwhhhh chocolatesss....
  • #40
  • Comment by pixen
  • on: 11/05/2008
OMGoshhhhhh, this is the most technical cooking I ever seen! Hmmm... as precise as the Swiss horology.. :-D Thank you for sharing your adventure with us.

pixen
  • #41
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 11/05/2008
Gemma, thanks and I'll try and get a private tour of a Swiss industrial chocolate factory soon!
  • #42
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 11/05/2008
Pixen, you just can't make 7200 Napoleons without a little organization and at least one large machine!
  • #43
  • Comment by Ivan
  • on: 13/05/2008
This is amazing! Now I can cut my Napoleons and they do not shatter-I just sneak them over to the laser guided ultrasonic knife after dark, when no one is looking!

I like that each worker has a variety in a day, and none look stressed. Thank you for such an educational and well photographed story.
  • #44
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 14/05/2008
Ivan, thanks for visiting! I am told the Napoleon is a deformation of 'Neapolitan', its true origin.
  • #45
  • Comment by D Walters
  • on: 20/05/2008
Brilliant display of how things are made in an industrial setting.
  • #46
  • Comment by Laura C
  • on: 17/07/2008
Absolutely fascinating!! I worked in the pastry kitchen of a restaurant where everything was made from scratch. Never in these quantities though. Just love your site!!!!
  • #47
  • Comment by Brains
  • on: 09/09/2008
Fantastic! I love COOP and this is so interesting to see. So super clean looking and looks very hands-on!
  • #48
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 10/09/2008
Thanks Brains, I have to go back to shoot their pastry operations, but it starts at 10 at night!
  • #49
  • Comment by Ariadna
  • on: 02/01/2009
Hi there, I don't have anything very insightful to say but I do love very much your website. Buen provecho!
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Ariadna, glad you like my website!


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