Cook’s Flavoring Company
A Family Legacy
of Pure Vanilla
Angus T. Lochhead, an optimistic and determined natural salesman who emigrated from Scotland at age 10, founds our company in 1918. As Americans begin to adopt refrigeration, Angus sees promise in superior vanilla extract for use in ice cream and baked goods.
Soon after, he builds a factory in St. Louis and introduces his pure vanilla extract to bakeries and dairies across the Midwest.
In 1925, a fire burns the factory to the ground. With a mission to rebuild on the ashes, Angus inspires confidence in his customers that he’ll be able to weather this storm, and storms to come.
Angus supports his family through the Great Depression by hitting the road and putting boots on the ground. Our grandmother is able to track his whereabouts by the location of the orders that arrive for her to fill. Angus keeps the company afloat, and three of his four sons end up joining him in the vanilla business.
Angus’s son (our father), Raymond R. Lochhead, heads to California to study chemical engineering at Cal Tech. Studying under Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, Ray explores aromatic chemistry with a goal of achieving the most intense and complex vanilla extracts.
From there, he heads to the U.S. Navy where he’s deployed on the USS Bunker Hill, destined for the South Pacific. But the aircraft carrier is destroyed in battle just before embarking. When Ray finally does head to that part of the world, decades later, it will be vanilla that takes him there.
After the war, Ray finds love. He marries Emilie, his best friend’s sister, who will become our mother and his lifelong partner. With Emilie, he returns to Cal Tech to complete his degree. It’s there that he falls in love with California, where he will one day start his own factory.
In 1948, having laid the groundwork for his pioneering work in vanilla chemistry, Ray joins the family business in St. Louis.
Ray travels to Mexico, the birthplace of vanilla, to source his own beans. While there, he witnesses firsthand the labor of love that is cultivating, harvesting, and curing vanilla pods. This begins his lifelong study of the art of vanilla in order to achieve the best possible extracts.
His dream of managing quality across all aspects of the vanilla lifecycle, quite literally from “bean to bottle,” is born.
In 1963, Ray moves back to his beloved California. He strategically establishes a plant in Paso Robles, ideally located between San Francisco and Los Angeles: two locations with plenty of new customers as well as ports to receive vanilla beans shipped directly from Madagascar and the South Pacific.
Ray relies on his Cessna single-engine airplane with his motorcycle stashed in the back to call on his customers in the West. His ingenuity resonates with many, and he sells quite a lot of vanilla.
Relying on his growing family to help fulfill orders, Ray puts his kids to work chopping vanilla for the percolator while he builds an infrared spectroscopy and gas chromatography food lab. This allows him to research vanilla and other flavors, experiment and perfect his slow and cold vanilla percolations, as well as invent dozens of new flavor formulations.
He’s able to expand his product line to include new flavors and invent new vanilla formats, including the very first pure vanilla powder and an alcohol-free pure vanilla extract.
Ray begins traveling to the world’s vanilla regions to buy directly at the source. He studies curing methods and regional differences in vanilla bean cultivation. He establishes long lasting relationships with growers in Madagascar, and sets up curing operations in Bali and Tonga, and establishes the world’s largest vanilla bean plantation in Fiji.
More than just an observer, Ray stays with people he meets, sleeps on their floors, calls them his friends and partners, and shares with them the art of vanilla bean curing he’s learned along the way. He establishes his own vanilla plantation in Fiji, pitching a tent in the jungle. Emilie visis and wields a machete to help tend the vines.
Continuing his father Angus’s legacy for quality vanilla and forming a strong bond with those who buy it, Ray’s customers love his vanilla (and in turn, Ray loved his customers). This includes the former president of Dreyer’s Ice Cream, Ken Cook.
After retiring from Dreyer’s, Ken launches a new label, targeted to home bakers: Cook’s Pure Vanilla.
Josephine, Ray’s youngest daughter, began sifting vanilla seeds in our plant at age five. When Ken Cook passes away in 1991, she and Ray acquire Cook’s and Josephine begins to work with Dad in all facets of the business. Continuing the family legacy, Josephine’s husband, Don Schmidt, joins the business and takes over production and manufacturing. In fact, Don is our production.
Josephine and Don, both Cal Poly graduates, join Ray in his world travels and product development. Josephine develops Cook’s Pure Vanilla Puree, a vanilla paste referred to as a “secret ingredient” by chefs and home bakers alike. Don creates Cook’s Pure Vanilla Crush, made specifically for ice cream makers to deliver the beauty of vanilla seeds to ice creams.
Josephine and Don help Ray run the company for more than three decades, until his death in 2018. Ray continues to work every day through his 80s, traveling to Uganda and Costa Rica to explore new vanilla sources and talking with customers.
Josephine and Don now carry on the family business with their three children, Margaret, George and Henry. In fact, the label on your bottle of Cook’s extract may have been attached by one of them. It’s a Lochhead tradition.
Margaret earns her Cal Poly degree in chemistry and starts running the lab—and our website. George, also a Cal Poly graduate in dairy science, joins our production team. Henry handles mail orders between college classes.
Margaret and cousin Susannah travel to Tonga to secure and cure vanilla beans. Don updates the plant to modern food safety protocols. Josephine retraces Dad’s path to vanilla’s birthplace in Mexico, where she finds high-quality vanilla production still thriving. She renews the company’s commitment to Madagascar, her frequent visits establishing direct procurement from local villages and forming Cook’s vanilla cooperatives. Both Josephine and Don make a big push into organic production, and further diversify procurement to Papua New Guinea.
In 2018, Cook’s celebrated 100 years manufacturing premium vanilla extract. Today, Josephine and Don honor Ray’s intense passion for vanilla. They live it and breathe it as he did, continuing his relentless drive for “bean to bottle” quality, seeking to make the very best vanilla possible.
They travel the tropics to find the world’s finest vanilla beans. They’re on the ground with vanilla farmers and curers. They select their own beans, run their own plant, answer their own phones. They continue to make some of the world’s finest vanilla, every batch following Angus’s century-old protocol.
Some things never change. Some things shouldn’t.
Josephine was sifting vanilla seeds in our plant at age 5. She never stopped.
Josephine spent her life learning the vanilla business. Now at our helm, she applies her own talent and vision to making the best vanilla possible. Josephine runs the business hands-on, selecting our beans, working with farmers and curers, advising customers, developing our product lines, and directing every aspect of our company.
A dairy science graduate of Cal Poly and Josephine’s husband, Don worked side-by-side with Ray for decades, learning vanilla inside and out. Don makes all of our vanillas and other flavors, along with overseeing all our sourcing, manufacturing, and quality control. A great technical resource for customers, Don manages everything that comes into our plant and everything that leaves it.
A graduate of UC Berkeley and Columbia University, Carolyn is a professional journalist and former Washington correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. She accompanies her sister Josephine on her vanilla expeditions, producing the company’s writing and photography. Carolyn cares deeply about our family vanilla legacy and wants to share our story with the world.
Margaret represents our 4th generation in the family business and is a Cal Poly chemistry graduate. She literally grew up in the vanilla business, developing a yen for aromatic chemistry during her grandfather Ray’s product taste tests. A consummate baker, Margaret specializes in flavor analysis and quality control.
We’ve always kept an unwavering focus on flavor quality. First, through the 300+ flavoring components found in extracts made from fully ripe, properly cured vanilla beans. Then, through the development of custom flavors in our lab. Today, via our state-of-the art GC-MS lab, we are able to isolate and refine even the most nuanced notes to both continuously develop new flavors as well as mix custom flavors depending on each of our client’s needs.
Our large-scale, yet delicate, extraction process and best-in-class manufacturing means we’re able to package anything from 4oz bottled extracts destined for a specialty store’s shelves to a 250 gallon “tote” for a nationally distributed bakery. And we do it all in-house, without any outside contracts. We pride ourselves in taking a craft, hands-on approach to all our products, no matter the size or format.
Quality is the ethos of our entire business. Below are some of the certifications and guidelines to which we adhere.
- Kosher via Central California Kosher
- Organic via California Certified Organic Farmers (for our organic products)
- SQFI Level 2 via the Safe Quality Food Institute
- GMO & Allergen Free