|The Drop That Makes The Difference|
All about Cook Flavoring Company and the Lochhead family's obsession with vanilla...
One bottle of Cook’s Pure Vanilla represents a hundred years of one family’s devotion to the art of vanilla; and a thousand years of cultivating the spice that’s like gold: the vanilla bean.
The story of vanilla began before it could be recorded. All we know is that the ancient Aztecs, in what is now Vera Cruz, Mexico, first discovered the bean—the fruit of a delicate terrestrial orchid.
A farmer pollinates a vanilla orchid on the island of Tongatapu, in Tonga.
When you use Cook’s pure vanilla, you are part of a long history of the Lochhead family’s deep love for this exotic spice, and four generations’ obsession with the mysteries of its delicate flavor.
You can get to know us best through our history and our vanila. They have always been intertwined.
American households are adopting refrigeration. Ice cream is quickly becoming a staple, universal treat. And a young Scottish immigrant named Angus Tulloch Lochhead, Sr., moves to St. Louis, Missouri. He has a vision for superior vanilla and flavorings as the key to superior ice cream, baked goods, and candy.
Angus Lochhead begins developing his formulas for extracts and flavorings, introducing pure vanilla to bakeries and dairies around the Midwest.
Angus Lochhead’s factory burns to the ground. (And the insurance agent never sent him the policy he purchased.) Nevertheless, he goes out to sell vanilla. The owner of City Ice Cream Company says: “Lochhead, I read that your place burned down. What are you going to do?” Lochhead replies: “I am going to build on ashes.” City Ice Cream Company places an order then and there, and the business carries on.
The Great Depression hits, but Lochhead “puts on his sales togs” and hits the road to sell. His wife knows where he is from the orders that arrive for her to fill, and his family of five children never goes hungry.
Lochhead’s son Raymond goes west to study mechanical and chemical engineering at Cal Tech. He is the first Lochhead to attend college. While there, he hones in on the chemistry behind vanilla.
The United States enters World War II, and R.R. Lochhead leaves Cal Tech for the U.S. Navy.
Raymond is stationed on board the USS Yorktown, destined for Midway in the Pacific Theater. Just before she embarks, he gets called off the ship. The Yorktown is hit by three Japanese bombs on June 7, 1942. When Raymond embarks for the South Pacific, it will be for vanilla; not for battle.
With the war over, Raymond marries Emilie Maloney, his best friend’s sister. They head to Pasadena, California, where Raymond finishes his studies at Cal Tech. His mentors include the great Linus Pauling.
Raymond’s studies have laid the groundwork for his extensive and ingenious work in the formulation and manufacturing of vanilla. He enters the family business in St. Louis.
Raymond goes to Mexico to source his own beans and learn all about the curing.
With a dream to expand the company, Raymond returns to California, settling in Paso Robles. Located half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Lochhead can supply both. As they are major ports, he can easily import vanilla from overseas. With his small one-seater plane, he can make sales calls up and down the coast.
He saws his motorcycle in half and bolts it back together with hinges so he can fold it up to fit into the airplane. When he lands in a new town, he unfolds it and drives from customer to customer. If it’s raining, he stops off in the Laundromats to dry his clothes between visits.
“I sold a lot of vanilla that way,” he says.
With the R.R. Lochhead Manufacturing Company established, he sets up a food technology lab specializing in infrared spectroscopy and gas chromatography to conduct research and development of vanilla and other flavors. His innovation ranges from the mechanics of processing to discovery of new flavor formulations.
Raymond begins traveling to Madagascar, Tonga, Fiji, and Indonesia to find and buy the finest beans directly from the source.
1980s: the Ken Cook connection
Ken Cook, president of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, decides to enter the vanilla business. Knowing that not all vanillas are equal, and that superior ice cream starts with superior extract, he chooses Raymond to produce all extracts and flavorings for Dreyer’s. Together, they launch a new label: Cook’s Pure Vanilla, distributing vanilla produced by R.R. Lochhead Manufacturing Company.
Ken Cook passes away in 1991, and R.R. Lochhead Manufacturing acquires Cook Flavoring Company, merging the two into one to expand into the retail market.
In the meantime, in order to ensure our supply of superior vanilla beans, the company begins to grow and cure its own vanilla beans, establishing plantations in the Fiji and Tonga islands, as well as a curing station in Bali, Indonesia.
The third-and-fourth generation Lochheads enter the business. With Raymond at the helm continuing to innovate, his daughter and son-in-law, Josephine and Donald Schmidt, expand operations. Their daughter, Margaret, begins her chemical engineering degree and starts working in the lab.
Meantime, Raymond and Donald secure organic certification for bean growers and processing in Tonga, Fiji, Madagascar, and Indonesia, while continuing to expand operations through sustainable, long-term relationships with farmers and curers.
With its California manufacturing plant and laboratory, together with overseas plantations and curing operations, Cook Flavoring Company, now in the family’s fourth generation, is a completely vertically integrated company unique in the flavoring industry. Built on superior scientific knowledge and lifetimes of experience in vanilla production and manufacturing, Cook Flavoring Company is one of the world’s foremost vanilla manufacturers.
Raymond’s granddaughter Susannah, at the Royal Agricultural Show in Tonga—where Cook’s growers take all the top prizes for their beans.