The macadamia nut has a soft, velvety meat with a subtle, sweet taste. Its shell is the hardest of tree nuts, requiring 200 pounds per square inch of pressure to crack. The trick is to crack that shell without pulverizing the spherical nutmeat inside. Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Company has figured out how to thread that needle, but before they calibrated it, they used to crack the nuts by spreading them on pavement, covering them with boards and driving over them with cars.
I learned this at the Mac Nut factory a few miles south of Hilo, a required tourist-stop if you like nuts, or if you like factory tours. I love the image in my head, in a grainy grayscale, of jalopies rolling over boards and nuts.
The factory is off the Mamalahoa Highway, also known as the Belt Road, which circles the big island. The factory is an eastern turn. They offer a self-guided tour, which is basically climbing a set of stairs to the second floor and peering through large windows at various stations in one processing plant. Large video screens at each window provide some canned commentary and several commercials for Mauna Loa products. The commercials, which feature a Hawaiian-style “Sherlock Holmes” character detecting fresh mac-nuts and Garlic-and-Maui-Onion-flavored mac nuts, which he has to sample in order to gather evidence, didn’t really work for me. But I loved the tour.
The nuts are shelled, inspected, sorted both by machine and by hand, then they come here. Various glazes are mixed in those huge vats. I didn’t post the picture of the pyramid of one-pound blocks of butter.
They are poured into the glaze mixture and stirred. After a set period of time (it was hard to tell how long because I don’t know when the process started) the large kettle is moved onto the forklift and the coated nuts are poured into a horizontal cylinder that looks a little bit like a rotisserie.
The cylinder rotates, and I think the purpose of this is to even out the coating. Then the worker dumps the nuts on the big table and spreads them out in a single layer. This isn’t just to allow them to cool; we could see the worker picking out some nuts that didn’t pass muster.
They dip mac nuts in practically everything; chocolate, of course, but they also have Kona-coffee-glazed mac nuts, which sound decadent (I haven’t tasted one yet). And they have those flavors on the savory end of the flavor continuum, like garlic and onion. I tried some; they tasted like barbecue flavored potato chips to me, which is A) not a favorite flavor of mine and B) a waste of a delicious mac-nut.
The factory is a big stop for the tour busses and the cruise ships. A pair of happy, lovestruck honeymooners took a picture of us. They were returning the favor after Margaret took some photos of them with the bride’s phone. Cruise ship day is a big day for the factory, Maria in the gift shop told me.
This day we “played tourist” rather than focusing on the writing retreat, and I am glad we took the time. It was the best blue-sky day of the week; since it’ll be seventy degrees and raining in Hawaii the rain wasn’t a problem, but soft gray clouds and the steady drum of rain on a roof is slightly more conducive to writing; and sunlight seems to scream, “Go outside and see stuff! It’ll be fun!”
I shipped my purchases home from the gift shop, which is why I can’t yet report on the Kona Coffee Glazed nuts. The boxes should be here tomorrow or Saturday.