Friday, April 10, 2015

Did Somebody Say Cookie: A Visit To Jules Destrooper

Belgium is awash with delicious food and drink. Chocolate and beer top the list but artisanal cheeses and sausages, moule and frites (mussels and fries) and crusty breads are also highly rated. Belgium is a county deep entrenched in food traditions so it should come as no surprise that another "must try" food item here in Belgium are the rich buttery cookies made by Jules Destrooper.

Original cookie presses
Jules Destrooper has been baking buttery cookies since 1886. From the beginning the bakery only used all natural ingredients and relied heavily upon rich butter (and this is still evident today since the air surrounding the factory bears the distinct aroma of melted butter). The first cookie made was an almond thin which within a few short years earned international recognition. The cookie line soon expanded to include a variety of butter wafers and the family owned business took off from there. Perhaps the most well known cookie flavor is speculoos, a spicy cinnamon infused butter cookie. Jules Destrooper began producing the cookie in 1970 but its origins are said to date back to the 17th Century with the import of spices due to the founding of the East India Trading Company. Today the bakery remains family owned and produces eighteen types of "biscuits" in addition to their creamy speculoos spread and their speculoos infused ice cream. Additionally Jules Destrooper has been working to develop more environmentally friendly packaging and they partner with local non-governmental organizations that support local residents with developmental disabilities and children with cancer throughout Belgium.

Like so many of Belgium's other great treasures, the Jules Destrooper cookie factory and visitors center is tucked away in small, off the beaten path Belgian town leading visitors (or at least myself) to wonder whether or not I am going on a wild goose chase. Our route had us trailing more than one tractor through rolling farmland dotted with World War I era Commonwealth graves (we were in the outskirts of Ypers after all), through quaint villages and over narrow cobblestone roads before we reached what is today the very modern glass fronted headquarters of Jules Destrooper. And
One of the interactive cookie games
while the cookie recipes may be traditional, what you find inside is thoroughly modern.

On a self guided tour (everything is translated into French, Dutch and English), visitors have the opportunity to learn about the history of Jules Destrooper and how the cookies have been and continue to be made. Visitors are able to view the ingredients in their natural, pre-cookie form, see how the cookies were first pressed and cut and compare them to how the process takes place today. (The difference really isn't that great). They can peek down into the factory floor and see cookies being packaged for shipping. There is a well done tri-lingual video that explains the entire history and cookie making process. But best of all, the exhibits are incredibly hands on. Kids of all ages can test the cookie irons for themselves and even play interactive games involving the various cookies. And of course no tour would be complete without the opportunity to sample the products. A tasting cafe features a variety of cookies as well as their famous speculoos and even speculoos flavored ice cream as well as delicious coffee for the adults and juice boxes for the kids.

The little village of Lo might be a bit out of the way but thanks to Jules Destrooper it has so much to offer. So if you're in the Ypers area or are simply looking for a tasty excursion, check out these cookies. Your taste buds will thank you even if your waistline doesn't.

The tasting cafe at the end of the tour

If you go:

Jules Destrooper Cookie Factory
Gravestraat 5
8647 Lo, Belgium
+32 58 28 09 33

Tours offered Monday-Saturday from 09:30-12:30 & 13.30-17.30; closed Friday mornings
Admission: Adults 5 Euro, Children under 6 Free, Ages 7-12 3 Euro

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