Like so many aficionados of flavour, I’m a fan of Tabasco. Indeed, hardly a day passes when I’m without a bottle of it stored in my kitchen cupboards or (more likely) opened and sitting in my fridge. So while visiting Louisiana for a blend of work and play, I was keen to head down to Avery Island for a tour.
Southern Louisiana is swampy flatland where nothing more than the odd church steeple might stick out on the horizon. However, Avery – roughly two hours from New Orleans – is one of five salt dome islands on the state’s Gulf Coast. The island rises to a mere 163 feet above sea level. Nonetheless, to see the small hill come into view elicited a double take as I drove to the factory from the mainland. That very salt forming the island is what brought Edmund McIlhenny there to make his sauce commercially in 1868. Much of the salt used in Tabasco Sauce continues to be sourced from the island’s mine – one of the biggest in North America.
I was playing tourist on my visit, so there was no behind the scenes snooping or interviewing anybody directly involved with production. Still, the chance to sightsee while joining the public tour of the pepper sauce factory turned out to be a fun opportunity to learn about the company's history and to get a glimpse of how the sauce is actually made. For example, did you know that the McIlhenny Company uses old Jack Daniel's whiskey barrels for aging the ‘pepper mash’ that becomes hot sauce? Yeah, me neither (before the tour, that is).