The Stowmarket Cake Club had the privilege of being invited to our local producers of malt, Muntons of Stowmarket, Suffolk. I would like to start off by saying a big thank you to Joanna Perry at Muntons for organising our day and making it such an incredible experience. I’d also like to thank Richard Platt in product development. He showed us behind the scenes in the testing and tasting area of different malt products and ingredients. The day was a true eye opener for all and gave us an amazing insight into how some of our baking products are made.
I organised the trip to Muntons for one very important reason; to understand where the food we eat comes from. This matter has sparked many debates on television, radio and social media. As a nation we now want to know more about the food we eat, how it’s made and where it comes from. I’ve always known of the Muntons malt factory in Stowmarket, but never gave it much thought until I realised how much malt/barley there is in our baking products. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to hear, taste and see first-hand on how one of our local products are produced.
The tour part one:
We arrived in the morning at Muntons to a very warm welcome by Jo and Richard. The CCC ladies also noticed our name was up on the screen at reception. This was a lovely touch and made us very feel a little bit special. We made ourselves comfortable in their conference room with teas and coffees and Jo introduced herself and explained who Muntons are and what they do. After a great introduction and some of our questions answered, we went on to be suited and booted (quite literally) in our safety gear. After some pictures being taken in our glamorous safety outfits, we made our way across the Muntons grounds to the first part of the tour. Here we saw and were explained about the germination process of Barley and what happens next.
The Muntons staff then went on to show us where the grain is stored and how the lorries are loaded. We also got to see the filtration room, the office where staff have to calculate how much barley is needed for each client and what end product is needed. We then stood in awe over their enormous warehouse. This is where all the Muntons products are stored ready for dispatch. It was quite something. The staff then walked on to show us an amazing piece of equipment (like something out of Willy Wonka) that crunches down honeycomb pieces into powder. Unfortunately this wasn’t on when we arrived, so we just had to use our imagination. However we still had a good look round and inside this wacky piece of machinery.
The ladies were very excited by the next bit of the tour and it was most probably one of their favourite sections, I know it was for Jeanne! We visited the home brewing area for wine. Here we saw huge containers filled with red grape concentrate, all ready to be tinned and distributed to the public for people like Jeanne who would like to brew their own wine at home. Muntons sell a huge amount of home brewing kits, not only for a variety of wines, but also cider and beer. I never knew it was so popular; however it’s one of their top sellers. We then made our way on to see the barley in kilns. I’ve never seen anything quite as big as this. I don’t know how many there were, but there were quite a few! These massive cylinders, which were first installed in the 1950s, are turned twice a day to keep the barley evenly distributed and perfectly heated. What amazing pieces of equipment.
After the first part of the tour done, our bellies were rumbling away. Time for a lovely lunch and some refreshments. All cooked and supplied by the Muntons chefs. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we came back to this feast! We were indulged with rolls, dips, sandwiches, crisps, mini cakes and profiteroles. Richard came along to join us and explained that most of the delights we were eating were made using the products we had seen, from different varieties of flours to the Malt extracts. Everything tasted scrummy, especially the mini carrot cakes and chocolate profiteroles. Yes we all went back for seconds!
The tour part two:
After a great lunch we were ready to go on to the second part of the tour. We were all very much looking forward to this bit. We started off by seeing some of the well known products that use malt/barley. We were all surprised by how many use it and shocked by some of the products on display, we would never have known! Everyone knows the most common ones like Malteasers, Ovaltine and Horlicks. But Cupasoup, Peri-Peri Sauce or lollipops? Sometimes it’s used to add different flavours, yet other times it’s used to give colour but no flavour. So interesting.
Richard then took us to a testing lab next. This is where we got to taste the different stages of the barley process. For instance, removing it at different heats or after a longer/shorter cooking time. This can change the flavours completely. We tried some sweet and bitter malt powders and extracts. Some we really liked and others were so bitter they made your eyes water. Strangely some were made to taste like something else. I must admit this part blew my mind!
After learning these amazing facts with Richard, we then went to see their micro-brewery. Smiles all round again! The staff at Muntons explained that some clients were unable to test new flavours (using malt/barley) at their own production factory. This was due to not being able to produce small enough quantities for testing; however Muntons installed a micro-brewery so they and their clients could try out new recipes on a much smaller scale. Again the staff shared loads of information on the process and always with such enthusiasm. Did you know the malt/barley can be added to control how much white foam forms on top of your beer? No, nor did we!
At last the section we had been waiting for: Muntons on site bakery. As we walked in we were excited to see such an array of bakes to try. Richard was kind enough to show and explain to us some of the bakes he had been working on and was very keen to see what we thought of the flavours. The ladies thoroughly enjoyed this and we tried just about everything that was laid out on the table before us. Of course we had our own personal favourite bakes. Mine being the mince pies and Christmas fruit cake! Besides all the bakes, we were all so fascinated by Richard explaining that just by changing the tiniest amount of one of the ingredients (say 20g) it can change the flavour of the product entirely. It was also interesting to see how Richard had swapped an ingredient, giving the bake a dark depth of colour. However it didn’t alter the flavour at all, but it did taste different to us. It’s all to do with eating with your eyes and the ingredient having something in it to make us want more, making it tastier. I found it all very clever.
After a lot of cake, brownies, crackers and pie eating, we were ready for our woodland walk around the grounds of Muntons. Melissa, who was our guide, is involved in working with Muntons looking after the environment and wildlife around their 45 acre site. She has managed to get the Muntons staff to work together in their breaks and spare time to create woodland paths, picnic areas and bird nesting boxes. All these things were made by the staff themselves, improving happiness in the work place and building friendships. Melissa was explaining that in order for Muntons to work efficiently they needed a happy team. This woodland provides them with an opportunity to work together and to get very close to nature. They also can go jogging in their break, or walk through the woods to their picnic sites and have lunch. It’s the perfect place to get away from it all, even if it’s just for half an hour. I can honestly say I hardly heard or saw the factory, and at one point I forgot we were walking around it’s grounds. The site was beautiful and I’m over the moon that Muntons invested time into this site and working with Melissa to create such a perfect edition to its impressive factory.
The Stowmarket Cake Club really enjoyed the time spent at Muntons. Gaining a greater understanding on where and how our products are made. Not only this, our misconception of factories has been changed. Muntons are the greenest malt factory in the world and literally use everything they produce and capable of creating their own energy. 0% Goes to landfill sites! They have invested time and money in all the right places, and at the end of it all, have the most enthusiastic, passionate and happy staff we’ve ever seen. I hope that Muntons continues to be successful and goes on to have many more awards. Well done Muntons and thank you so much for the experience.