Thursday, 2 June 2011

the sweet taste of success: my trip to a leicestershire dessert factory.


You might have enjoyed a Torta Della Nonna at an Italian restaurant – that may have been one of Vittles’.

You might have nibbled on a Banana and Honeycomb cupcake in a cafe – that could have been one of Vittles’.

And you might have indulged in a slice of Chocolate Junkyard from your local supermarket – that very possibly was one of Vittles’
.

Leicester-based family business Vittles are the undercover stars of the baking world. You’ve loved the products, but you’ve probably never heard the name. That’s because they modestly make their cakes for other people, and stay out of the limelight themselves.

And who would’ve thought that this booming business of delectable desserts had it’s humble beginnings 24 years ago in a two bedroom terraced house on Fairfield Street, South Wigston?

“Back then in our tiny terrace, we had to dismantle the oven and rebuild it inside as we struggled to even fit it through our front door”, said Julie Zalesny, founder and Managing Director of the business.
“We were making desserts for corner shops, pubs, coffee shops and delicatessens.

“Sixth months later we opened our first 1000sq ft factory and have since purpose built this 18,000 sq ft production line to create our desserts on an industrial scale.”

Now, as a crumbly cheesecake base is carefully measured into baking tins, next door endless rows of tangy lemon tarts are being iced, sliced and carefully placed in boxes ready for distribution to restaurants, hoteliers and food wholesalers all over Britain.

The Humberstone Lane business has recently signed a contract with a worldwide famous brand that will almost certainly double their turnover.
(No, they can’t say who it is.)

“Today we’re making around 350 to 400 cheesecakes, which is an average day for us. It ta
kes about a quarter of a ton of mix”, said Liam Skinner, Bakery Production Supervisor, as he proudly inspected the finished layer. This sweet smelling bakery section is responsible for the beginnings of cakes, sponges and biscuit bases.

Leading the overall team is Operations Director Peter Simpson, who has worked under the Roux brothers in London. “We probably make between around 1,000 to 2,000 cakes a day, not to mention all our other products. Though our Tarte au Citron is by far the favourite dessert that we do”, he said.

This lemon luxury is handmade using Spanish lemon fresh cream made from real fruit and dusted with fine sugar. It scooped a gold star at the 2010 Great Taste Awards along with their traditional Swiss recipe country carrot cake.

It isn’t just the lemon tart that is so lovingly prepared with such fine ingredients. From mousses to "mulsters", the array of afters are made from fresh British cream, cream cheese and dairy produce. It’s all British – apart from the organic Fairtrade chocolate, which is from Belgium.

The spotless British Retail Consortium BRC Grade A accredited factory employs around 40 staff, some of whom have been there since the very beginning. Hayley Giles, has worked there for 14 years dusting, sprinkling, delicately decorating and painstakingly trimming the finished products. Now I watch as she places mouthwatering mandarin segments on an Orange and Whiskey roulade.

With their “traditionally influenced innovations”, Vittles make lip-smacking sweets from Blueberry Crème Brûlée to Bread and Butter Tart and Chocolate Eclair Cake to Chocolate Trifle Mousse. Not to mention their appetising Asian inspired Matcha Tea Pudding, made with fresh cream and infused with a fragrant green tea.

What’s more, Vittles’ are seeing in the Spring with their new addition to the foodie family, Flowerpot Muffins. These dainty delights are a garden of gourmet cupcakes, which come in blueberry, chocolate chip or muesli.

So next time you’re digging into that double chocolate muffin, chomping on that cherry cheesecake or munching on some Millionaire’s shortbread, think of Vittles. It could be your exotic dessert is actually a little taste of Leicester.

Served with cream, of course.



Written by me for Leicestershire Life magazine's new food supplement, which makes it's debut this June.

Photo credit to Leicester Mercury Media Group.

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