A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of traveling out to Pigeon, Michigan to meet up with the folks from TRISCUIT®, The Cooperative Elevator Company, and several other media/press folks. The whole premise around the trip was to celebrate the wheat harvest of the fields that produce the wheat for the crackers directly where it’s sourced. Yep, you guessed it; smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous golden wheat field.
What makes this trip so special, besides the unbelievable events I was a part of and how well-planned EVERYTHING was, was the knowledge I gained. Not only about the crackers themselves (seriously I was blown away – like mind blown when I found out the process of how) were made but more so about the story on what all goes into making these crackers and their commitment to the farmers and the environment. TRISCUIT has been around for over 100 years. Their Original crackers start with three simple ingredients – 100% whole grain wheat, oil, and salt. They follow the KIS school of thinking – keep it simple. Deliciousness doesn’t have to be complicated nor require a slew of ingredients. For them “delicious doesn’t come down to more things, it comes down to the right things.”
While I grew up in a TRISCUIT loving home, I had no idea how they were made, where the wheat came from or honestly anything more than they truly are the best cracker out there. When asked if I wanted to learn more about their process and meet the folks behind the brand I jumped at the chance. And when I found out where I was going, to see the ‘roots’ of their crackers I was pretty much packing my backs as I was saying “Yes, I’ll be there!” Now, this was my first trip to Pigeon, Michigan and most definitely will not be my last. It is truly such a beautiful town; very rich in Americana. You can’t help but swell with American pride as you ride past the crystal blue lakes and the fields of golden wheat swaying rhythmically in the wind. There’s just something honest, simple, and genuine there.
Day 1 –
Arriving in Michigan I was met with an abundance of smiles and hugs galore by my trip mates. That right there assured me that this was going to be a good trip. Once the rest of the crew arrived we boarded the bus and traveled a few hours to our lodge, making a quick stop along the way in Frankenmuth. This town honestly came out of nowhere and is like a hidden gem in the middle of Michigan. It’s definitely something everyone needs to check out! During our ride, our bus was packed with all types of treats from the Mondelēz International parent company.
While we were en route we learned more about TRISCUIT and their relationship with the local farmers and their Co-op Elevator partners. Their crackers are baked with 100% whole grain soft white winter wheat that is farmed in Michigan with a heavy emphasis on being mindful on the impact to the environment while pioneering efforts specifically in the areas of precision agriculture and working with agronomy experts. Agronomy – the science of soil management and crop production. More details about the various initiatives and best practices were discussed on Day 2 while touring the Co-op and standing in the middle of a gorgeous wheat field.
Finally, we hit arrived at our lodging; a quaint little B&B, The Lodge at Oak Pointe. There we were met with a warm, welcome smile from the owners and a sense of peace. The place was tranquil and reminded me of some of the cabins I had been in earlier with lots of stuffed wildlife strewn among the decor and a sense of down-home comfort. A quick shower, freshen up and back to the bus for an informal meet-and-greet reception at the Bird Creek Farm. As I mingled I learned more about the ‘backstory’ as I like to call it about the brand, the Co-op and what some of their farming practices were.
In speaking with Scott Gordon, CEO of Cooperative Elevator company, he simply said: “We have a great story to tell but we just haven’t had the chance to tell it.” The wheat that is weaved into each TRISCUIT cracker is sourced from farming suppliers who strive to adopt farming best practices and work towards continuous improvement. It made sense to team up with the farming suppliers at the Cooperative Elevator Co. as they share TRISCUIT’s combined sense of responsibility in delivering quality ingredients in each and every bite. But it doesn’t stop there. The farmers at the Co-op are adopting innovative practices to optimize pesticide and fertilizer use with an aim to enable farmers to do more, with less. This means employing practices aimed at enhancing yields while minimizing inputs and grower costs. In a nutshell the Co-op and TRISCUIT are about responsible farming and have kicked off some pretty big initiatives which I’ll expand on a bit later.
While we mingled I met lots of folks from the Co-op (Dan Armbruster – VP of Agronomy, Michelle Bergman – VP of Grain, and Caleb Sundblad – Grain Marketing Specialist) and TRISCUIT (Bryan Rakowski – Senior Director Equity and Innovation for Mondelēz North American Crackers Portfolio, Vidushi Bhargava – Senior Associate Brand Manager TRISCUIT North America, Karimah Hudda – Global Sustainability Lead Procurement at Mondelēz International and Jaclyn Campbell – Associate Director Savory Innovation at Mondelēz International). You could hear the pride in their voices as they spoke about their companies and what it truly meant to work together. I had a chance to talk with Kailey Clark, Senior Brand Manager, TRISCUIT North America (side note: seriously had the coolest sunglasses ever) for a bit. She thanked us all for coming and helping to share their story. “TRISCUIT Crackers have sourced the majority of our whole grain wheat from the Cooperative Elevator Co., a group of local farmers in the Thumb of Michigan, for over 10 years. Their hard work and passion for growing quality, delicious ingredients is just one of the many reasons we’re proud to call them part of the TRISCUIT family.” -Kailey Clark, Senior Brand Manager, TRISCUIT North America.
Day 2 – Wheat, Eats, & Karaoke
We started off our morning at a local diner and headed off to the Cooperative Elevator Company site. There Scott, Dan, Michelle, and Caleb gave us a tour of their facility and discussed the ins and outs of their operations. I have to admit, it’s pretty high-tech and the nerd in me was most certainly impressed. So until my first trip to a wheat field earlier this summer, I really had no idea what a farming cooperative was. It’s actually rather impressive and down to earth at the same time. Here, the cooperative is an organization that is owned and run jointly by its members. Subsequently, they all share in the profits. The Cooperative Elevator Co. in Pigeon, Michigan was formed more than 100 years ago and has more than 1,000 farmers with ownership in the company.
What truly impresses me the most about this type of farming is that its farmers and companies working together as one team. You see when those 1,000 farmers come together to purchase and market their crops as one there has more leverage which benefits the group in more ways than say working as an independent farm. There’s unity in strength and that’s a belief the Co-op shares. The Co-op helps out when a farmer is stuck out in the field and needs fuel or help with equipment. They work as a team to get the job done.
The Co-op has several crops on rotation simultaneously. What this does is gives growers options while also providing nutrients back into the soil following a harvest. These crops include corn, soybeans, alfalfa, dry beans, sugar beets, and of course soft white winter wheat. Wheat farming, like most farming, is impacted by climate change as our water resources become scarce and carbon emissions increase. The program that TRISCUIT and the Co-op Elevator created allows them to track their efforts to grow wheat in a way that helps conserve water, cares for the oil and improves farming practices. The companies embrace and are huge advocates for sustainability. In turn, these mindful practices not only improve the conditions for the wheat that is harvested for each delicious TRISCUIT cracker but it also ensures a better yield and outcome for the farmers.
Long gone are the days of harvesting by hand or with horse and plow. Now they rely on huge machines, technology, and continual process improvements. In 2015 the Co-op established a year-long assessment with Michigan State to track farming practices; i.e., use of inputs and yield. After the data was collected, analyzed steps were taken to help leverage the collected data with the goal of driving better outcomes both agriculturally and economically. The participating farmers obtain their performance results within three months of harvest. With that, they can compare against their peers and work with the agronomist for improvement opportunities. One example of an improvement opportunity found that a Co-op farmer use of precision farming (use of GPS, satellites and computer programs) to plot exactly how much nutrient and seed to add throughout growing plots. Last year 74% of their farmers used precision farming and it resulted in a 6.5% improvement yield!
The use of technology like GPS helps improve efficiencies and reduces fuel usage in day-to-day operations. GPS is used in every key step of harvesting – land preparation, spreading fertilizer, full utilization of the growing area and, harvesting to ensure there’s no overlap.
One of the biggest Co-op’s initiatives to date has been the development and implementation of their Variable Rate Fertilizer Program. By making significant investments in both equipment and resources, they are able to work with farmers to test the soil that make up their fields, which in turn allows to them apply the exact amount of fertilizer needed for certain areas of the field.
As we toured the facility one thing Dan had said really stuck with me. “This is just what we do. We take it for granted because we grew up here. It gives us a sense of responsibility to not only the growers but also the person eating the TRISCUITS. We want to do our very best to provide the very best.” – Dan Armbruster, VP of Agronomy, The Cooperative Elevator Company. I couldn’t help but smile and feel rest assured that every single box of TRISCUIT I had eaten or would eat was made with care and conscious.
From the Co-op, we headed off to the Kretzschmer Family Farm where (if you look on the back of a TRISCUIT box you’ll see the farm, the family and the people behind the gorgeous wheat fields below).
It’s crazy to think that these little wheat kernels below are transformed into TRISCUIT crackers!
Yes – those little wheat kernels above plus salt and oil are all that’s need to make original TRISCUITS. For the flavored ones like the Cracked Pepper & Olive Oil those additional ingredients are added on as a seasoning after they are baked.
As we were standing in this field I was chatting with Kailey, Vidushi, and Jaclyn more about the crackers themselves, how the flavorings were added and how they were made. Vidushi blew my mind when she gave her presentation on The Life of a TRISCUIT. They start with wheat berries from the very farms I was standing in earlier that morning. The berries are then boiled and shredded. The wheat shreddings are then woven together, cut, formed, salted, baked to perfection, Non-GMO Canola oil is added and then they are packed up for shipment.
Re-read that process – boiled/shredded/woven/cut/salted/baked/oiled. That’s it!!! Now what I was truly blown away with was the concept that the wheat was woven together. I, for all these years, thought that the batter/dough/cracker base was rolled out into a sheet and then a stamp came by and cut out the individual cracker. I was so wrong it wasn’t even funny. It all makes sense now. Seriously, grab a TRISCUIT and look at it! You can literally see the weavings. And THEN if you bite it you can see a gap or pocket. For me, this reminded me of the afghans my Mom make when I was little. She’d weave or crochet the fabric together and there was always that little air pocket.
After a gorgeous day touring the wheat fields, visiting the farms and learning all about the Co-op it was time to head back to the lodge to freshen up for a Farm-to-Table dinner at the Kretzschmer Family Farm prepared by James Beard nominated Chef, Chef James Rigato of Mabel Gray. As we rounded the corner of the wooden barn we were met with this incredible tablescape! I have never seen a farm table and cut logs look so absolutely gorgeous!
Everything was truly jaw-dropping and honestly, unlike any farm-to-table event I had ever been at. This was truly magical. FYI… see that jar of pickles below? They alone are worth making the trip to Mabel Gray. EPIC!
After we mingled for a bit it was time to find out seats and partake in the amazing dinner that Chef James had prepared.
What I loved about all the foods we were treated to, each dish had at least one thing locally sourced.
- Locally sourced Idyll Farm goat cheese with hot pepper jelly on TRISCUITS
- Benton’s local smoked ham with MI honey butter and wood-fired cornbread. FYI… all cornbread until the end of time MUST be wood-fired prior to consumption! GENIUS!
- Lamb Meatballs with TRISCUIT crackers, spicy green tomato sugo, and marinated sweet peppers
- Wood-grilled jerk chicken with chow chow, scallion, and cilantro. One thing Chef did not disappoint on was his heavy hand on bold flavors!
- Other dishes were summer vegetable ‘Elote’, green bean salad, summer TRISCUIT Trifle and CRAZY DELICIOUS BROWNIES… which Chef gave me the recipe for (see below!)
When dinner was all done and we were all letting our full bellies rest I got the chance to talk with James for a bit. For me, this was a true highlight as when I can talk food and chef-life with someone it always makes me happy. We all love food and we’re raising a nation of foodies. But there’s just something about talking with someone that has that same passion and fire in their eye when they talk about it. I’ve met a lot of great chefs in my life and Chef James is one of the coolest and nicest guys. I can’t wait to head back out to Michigan just to eat at his restaurant and catch up with him again!
Oh, this… these are those CRAZY brownies that seriously made you want to grab the tray and run for the fields with them just so you didn’t have to share them! This creation is from Pastry Chef Kristina Conger of Mabel Gray!
Quickly the sun started to set and the bonfire was lit. As we gathered around the bonfire that’s when the karaoke started and non-stop laughter began. Yes, even I sang thanks to my partner Bryan who was Ike to my Tina Turner. It was just heart-warming honestly to see people just having honest to goodness fun. You have not lived folks until you’ve karaoked out under a million stars in the middle of a farm in Michigan! These people seriously know how to have one heck of a good time!
Day 3 – Namaste
As the sun rose I woke up to a sense of peace and comfort. The past few days truly were enlightening as well as so much fun. The knowledge I gained was more than just ‘this is how we make our crackers’ but more about the people behind the brand and how real people are making a difference in what we snack on and ensuring that the best practices are in place. I gained an even bigger sense of pride about a brand that I already loved! I’m already planning a vacation back to Michigan as it’s such a beautiful place with absolutely amazing people!
This amazing trip and experience was sponsored by TRISCUIT® and The Cooperative Elevator Company. As always, all opinions my own. Thank you for supporting partnerships with brands I trust and believe in Print
Mabel Gray Fudge Brownies
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
- 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 6 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Two James J.Riddle Bourbon Caramel Sauce
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 Tbl Two James J.Riddle Bourbon
- 1 Tbl unsalted butter
- 1 Tbl lemon juice
- salt to taste
Mabel Gray Fudge Brownies
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.
- In 3-quart saucepan over very low heat, melt butter or margarine and chocolate, stirring
the mixture constantly. Remove from heat, and stir the sugar into the chocolate. Allow
the mixture to cool slightly.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each, then stir in the vanilla. Combine
the flour and salt; stir into the chocolate mixture. Spread the batter evenly into the
- Bake in oven 30 to 35 minutes. Brownies are done when toothpick inserted into center
come out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack.
Two James J.Riddle Bourbon Caramel Sauce
- Combine sugar and water in medium size sauce pot. Place on medium heat and cook to an
amber color. Do not stir and make sure to watch closely so sugar does not burn.
- Turn off heat and slowly whisk in room temperature cream. Be careful this mixture will create
a lot of steam.
- Whisk in butter until combined.
- Whisk in lemon juice and bourbon, mix until combined.
- Add salt to taste.
- Cut the brownies and liberally drizzle the caramel sauce over top. Serve immediately
This recipe is from the amazing Pastry Chef, Kristina Conger at Mabel Gray.
Keywords: bourbon brownies, mabel gray brownies, decadent brownies, pastry chef brownies