Some trips are planned and some are pure serendipity. We were wandering around the Louisiana Bayou when we happened upon the sleepy Avery Island, a pure salt dome surfacing out of the marshland and owned since the US Civil War by the Marsh, Avery, and McIlhenny families.
Their family business, the McIlhenny Co., isn’t just another brand waiting to be exploited by a profit-crazed private equity fund, but a cultural phenomenon that has endured and grown since 1868. Today, their Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce is the preferred pepper seasoning of 180 countries, the US Army (in its MREs), the International Space Station, and the British Crown.
The tabasco peppers originally came from the Mexican state of Tabasco and are not particularly hot by Scoville standards (2,500–5,000 SHU, compared to 100,000–350,000 for a habanero). Even today, when they reach a precise shade of red, they are hand-harvested, then mashed with the island’s salt and aged in used Jack Daniels whiskey barrels. After three years, the soup is filtered, mixed with vinegar, and then bottled in the same puckered cologne bottles as the original recipe. And that’s it—not a chemical additive in sight.
When you visit the island, virtually everyone you meet (including the owners) is a second-, third-, or fourth-generation employee. Some would call it paternalism, but there’s no question–this company knows how to treat and retain its employees. In fact, there are few products you can consume today with as clear a conscience, both for where they came from and what they will do to you. Think of that the next time you mix a Bloody Mary.