Sunday, 16 May 2010

Burts Chip Factory

As part of our trip to Devon which encompassed Riverford Organic Farm and Barbers 1833 cheesemakers in Somerset, we visited Burts Chip Factory. Now, anyone who knows me also knows that I am a crisp fiend. I considered starting up Salty Snacks Anonymous for some therapy. I once went through a phase of eating a packet of ready salted Hula Hoops every day for three months. In an effort to save some cash I bought a multipack and it was a bad move; I ate 3 packets that day.

It was with some excitement that we entered the factory. Bedecked in full splendour of lab coats, shoe coverers and hairnets, we were shown enormous cartons of potatoes. Throughout the year, Burts use different varieties of potato depending on what's best for the season. I rather liked this idea; a spring-time packet is likely to be a little different to that of one bought in, say, the autumn.

A huge, intimidating vat of bubbling sunflower oil was being stirred carefully to help the crisps cook more evenly. Used oil doesn't just get chucked out - it goes to making dog food. The oil keeps their coats shiny. It's all about recycling here; potato slurry goes to local farmers to feed their cows, and any sub-standard crisps are fed to pigs. I would be a happy pig.

Plucking a hot, freshly fried crisp off the production line was a joy. I had to stop myself from greedily shovelling handfuls into my mouth. Unsalted at this stage, they were pure potato goodness.

The above nifty contraption sorts the crisps, when seasoned, into perfect bag amounts.

I was surprised by how much work goes into making a bag of crisps. The crucial stage is the frying and the oil has to be kept at a constant temperature for even cooking. Ultraviolet technology checks the crisps in case they get stuck together, resulting in a raw starchy middle, and my favourite part was a weight sensor that blew out a blast of air to reject any packets that were too heavy or too light. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.

We ended the tour by going to the offices for a crisp tasting session. Soon to launch, Burts will be making a Thai sweet chilli flavour, and we were to try three different types, with the favourite flavour to go on the market. We thought long and hard, we munched many crisps and a favourite emerged, the spiciest of the lot.

My crisp addiciton has been reignited.


Jonathan said...

"Fried by Bloggers"! I wonder how motivating that is for the general public. Sounds great fun though. I'd have been tempted to pull a few levers and push a few switches as I went round.

Chris Pople said...

I want to go for a swim in that potato vat. Like a bit potatoey jacuzzi.

TheFastestIndian said...

I love Burts! I took solace in them when my beloved Cape Cod crisps stopped being stocked in the local shops. Well done on showing such restraint and not scoffing the lot!

Lost in the Larder said...

Glad to hear the spiciest type made it. Look forward to trying them when they come out. Looks like you had fun. Great post.

Greekfoodlover said...

ooooh I love crisps, but the best ones I've had are the Swedish ones, I have to admit :)) This post made me so crisp hungry though!

Helen said...

Can you believe how much fun this was? Best hangover cure EVER.

PlumLeaf 李葉 said...

That's great! Tour of a crisp factory! Did they give you any samples to take home? & does the smell of fried crisp linger on you like frying chips at home?

My fav crisps at the mo are "Jack Pots" (local crisps from East Anglian Crisp Company) I love the Mature Cheddar & Spring Onion; Beef & Horseradish is good too! Finished the Sweet Chiili one today for lunch! (bad girl! it's a 150g bag!)

My fav chilli crisp is Sensations Sweet Chilli hot and addictive!

Hollow Legs said...

Jonathan - I imagine some might well be put off... I was too scared to push any buttons. A bubbling vat of oil!

Chris - you'd come out ChrisP.

Fastest Indian - I've never seen cape cod crisps, I'll keep an eye out.

Lost in the larder - thanks, it was enormous fun.

Greekcookeryclass - Swedish you say? What made them so good?

Helen - It was. Hangover - GONE.

PlumLeaf - We did have a lot of crisps to take home. We didn't stink of oil or anything, there was good ventilation. I've not heard of Jack Pots - beef and horseradish sound brilliant.