Down on Avery Island–in the thick of Cajun country, just up some from the Atchafalaya Delta–is a place where mosquitoes explode if they bite you. At least, that’s what they tell you on the company tour.
It’s where the McIlhenney family has been making Tabasco Sauce the same way since 1868.
It’s an interesting process that has much in common with fine wine or Kentucky bourbon, but doesn’t require an ID to buy it or try it. Although, some common sense should dictate how much you pour to invigorate your étouffée or gumbo.
The sauce begins with a special strain of tabasco pepper seed that sprouts in a greenhouse nursery before it’s transplanted into rich and fertile alluvial soil.
A gradated color stick determines the precise shade of the ripened red pepper before it’s properly picked by Peter, and crushed into a mash mixed with salt mined from the family property.
Company coopers prepare and sanitize 60 gallon white oak barrels reinforced with forged iron bands…
where the mash is stored and sealed with crusted salt, and left to age for up to three years for the traditional heat, and between eight and ten years for the “reserve” collection. It was dizzying, just standing by the storage shed to take a photograph and inhaling the pungent aroma of fermenting peppers.
When the mash is “ready”, it’s sent to the production floor free of peel and seeds. then combined with pure white vinegar, and monitored for three weeks before quality control personnel determine that it’s ready for the bottling plant.
Automation will carry out the packaging under watchful eyes at a rate of approximately 220,000 bottles per day to keep up with world-wide demand,
and a very demanding clientele.
It’s been 150 years since Edmund McIlhenney poured his potent pepper sauce into recycled cologne bottles, but the five generations that followed have been loyal to the original recipe, and have grown accustomed to the savory taste of success.