Tarte flambee, once a regional gastronomic product from the French border, has conquered the world in the past few years. Key roles in this were played by a technologist, an oenologist and a businesswoman.
Flammkuchen, called flammekueche (tarte flambee) in France, was originally a regional product from the Alsace-Lorrain region on the French side of the Rhine and the Baden/Palatinate area on the German side. A flat disk of unleavened dough spread with sour cream, bacon and onion and baked quickly and crisply, it was the ideal accompaniment to beer and wine. In the past the dough was supplied fresh and ready-shaped to innkeepers and market traders at wine festivals and similar events, initially by artisan bakeries and later mainly by medium-sized businesses in both France and Germany.
The fact that eating tarte flambee is a matter of course today in Hamburg as much as it is in Tokyo, London or Cape Town began in 2006. That was when Dieter Wieser, Michaela Paulsen and Frank Wambsganss founded a company dedicated to the highly automated production of perfect tarte flambee bases. They had previously discovered how much potential can lie in this specialty when working as catering suppliers of an all-inclusive worry-free tarte flambee package including an oven, equipment etc. and bought-in tarte flambee bases. However, the traders became not just producers but also product developers and machine builders. As usual, production in 2006 began in premises that quickly became too small. After several extensions and alterations, a real new building development was added in 2013 at a cost of around EUR 12m. This now produces bases on six lines, while two lines provide the option to make either bases or ready-topped tartes flambees. According to Frank Wambsganss, the factory operates three shifts, six days a week, to yield an average of 150,000 to 180,000 pieces, of which 90 % are customer-specific products. In other words they are own brands with the option to choose between pure wheat doughs, spelt or even wheat with rye and malt, prepared using the client’s own recipe and in their own thickness, own shape and own packaging, and optionally in organic or conventional quality, fresh or frozen. The proportion of untopped bases is currently around 80 %. 70 % of these bases are transported as fresh products with a remaining shelf life of 45 days, while 30 % are shipped frozen.
Ready-topped bases are available only as frozen products. Fresh goods are in no sense designed exclusively for the German market. Even retail chains and catering wholesalers in Spain buy fresh tartes flambees, which still have a minimum shelf life of 35 days after they arrive there. Instead of being turnkey production lines, most of the equipments now operating in the works in Hauenstein in the Pa- latinate are a combination of bought-in machines/plant and the company’s own developments (which is also why there are no photos of them). A component playing an essential role are the stamps that take the dough, already pre-portioned by volumetric dough dividers, and reduce it in a mold to an ab- solutely standardized thickness of 1.2 mm over a length of up to 38 cm. The stamps and mold are heated in this process, resulting in the two surfaces of the pancake being pre-baked during the pressing operation. Only after that is the still flexible pancake cut into the required shape by a punch, and moves forward to the packing unit. The entire lines are highly automated. Just 30 of the 60 employees work in the production unit, which also include quality management, product development and the company’s own technicians.
» We constantly think about the development of new products, shapes and applications «
Wambsganss says their market development currently takes place at several levels. There is still very clear demand growth in the domestic market in both catering and the food retail. Caterers are discovering the product for themselves, and are requesting their own products for their buffets. There is currently strong demand from Scandinavia, the Benelux countries and Spain as well as from France, and “tarte flambee” has now become a well-known concept even in South Africa and Asia. They are especially popular in China when baked in a wok.
Another development path relates to new variants and applications, e.g. as a vegan product, as a basis for gateaux, or topped with meringue or creme brulee parfait. Some of the ideas originate from customers and some from the company itself. Wambsganss says: “We constantly think about the development of new products, shapes and applications. How- ever, the requirement that the product must be capable of not only artisan but also automated production sets limits, and the rapidly growing day-to-day business is currently taking up much of our energy.” Energy is also demanded by the next set of investment plans. Four more lines are sched- uled to commence production by 2017 at the latest, after which the expansion of exports etc. is next on the agenda. Sales and marketing is another growth area. For example the Gusto Palatino AG company has been founded, based in Gossau, Switzerland, and further international offshoots may probably follow.
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