Rabbi Michael Hoffman’s been to Spain so many times, he could make the Guinness Book of World Records. 300 trips in 11 years, and running! But you’ll never find Rabino Hoffman flamenco dancing or basking on Spain’s spectacular sun-soaked beaches. He’s way too busy inspecting food plants – 150 of them.
OU Kosher’s RFR in Spain puts in thousands of car miles and 12-hour days. He’s dedicated to making sure kosher consumers are able to enjoy the tastes of Madrid, Barcelona, or Seville, without ever having to book a ticket.
Rabbi Hoffman supervises a wide array of manufacturers including those that produce fruit nectars, rice, wine, soy and almond milk, frozen breads and croissants, anchovies, olives, and olive oil – lots of olive oil, and lots of olive factories – Angel Camacho, Acyco, DCOOP, Aceitunas Guadalquivir, Agro sevilla and many more. According to Rabbi Hoffman, hundreds of brand names can be found on these companies’ respective schedule B’s.
“Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world and olives are its main export,” he says. “I could drive for hours and hours and all I see are olive trees.”
His extensive itinerary covers the colorful expanse of Spanish terrain, from up north in Basque country, where he visits a plant that produces sparkling fruit juices (a.k.a. non-alcoholic champagne) for Kristian Regale, ShopRite and Sparkling Ridge brands, to plants producing vinegar, and several Wineries in Catalonia, Barcelona, and La Rioja in the middle of the country, and a smoked salmon plant near Gibraltar in the far south, to name just a few.
According to Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, OU Kosher’s director of supervision of European countries, the steady increase in companies seeking OU Kosher certification is due, in large part, to the country’s struggling economy.
“More and more companies in Spain are looking to export products,” he says. “The OU empowers their entry into the American market.”Apparently, into Canadian, Israeli, and European markets as well.
Americans love their snacks and have long enjoyed General Mill’s Nature Valley granola bars. In order to service the Israeli, British and other European consumers, the company has its popular snack produced in a “proximity-friendly” Spanish plant and then exports them to these countries. (Arizona teas are, likewise, made in Spain for Israel and Europe.) Another snack-related product, derived from potatoes, corn and wheat, is sent in the form of pellets to factories that create potato chips, corn chips and puffed corn.
Rabbi Hoffman also inspects plants that produce non-finished products such as enzymes, extracts, milk powder, concentrated butter and antioxidants to be used by the food industry to create finished products. Fish included. Three anchovy plants along Spain’s north coast supplies anchovy paste for the manufacturers who use it to stuff olives, as well as fillets in oil. Either way, these little fish’s market-ready destinations include: Roland brand at the Yurrita plant, Company Crespo pack Canadian brands such as Millionaire’s Club.
When in Barcelona or Seville, two major cities boasting numerous large plants, Rabbi Hoffman stays for the entire week. He rents a tourist apartment, equipped with a kitchen and two bedrooms. His frequent patronage prompted the hotel management to store a special box for him with his kosher pots and pans. During the nights when he’s travelling from one region to the next, he books a room in a hotel and “eats his meals out of his suitcase.”
He admits that the extensive road travel can prove tiring and the time away from family gets lonely. In order to keep his mind and spirit stimulated, he listens to classical music and Torah tapes in the car and welcomes the few times each year when his wife accompanies him to Spain.
“It’s nice to come home to a good supper – and, of course, good company,” he says.
The Rabbi’s supervisory travels have taken him to destinations you wouldn’t imagine an OU Kosher RFR would wind up – like biodiesel plants, for instance.
But biodiesel is used for cars! Why would they want kosher certification?
“One of the byproducts in biodiesel production (made with vegetable oil) is glycerin, which is used for food applications,” explains Rabbi Hoffman. “The major kosher-concern is the use of UCO, used cooking oils, which typically come from fast food chains such as McDonald’s. This requires constant monitoring of raw material.”
Rabbi Hoffman’s visits include OU Kosher wineries in Catalonia, Barcelona, and La Rioja. He attests to the high quality of the Spanish-grown grapes used to create delicious cabernet/merot blends. In fact, one of the Spanish wineries attained fame and multiple awards for their products. He credits the OU.
As the story goes, the original wine wasn’t quite up to par, prompting a kosher wine distributer to call on the OU to help improve it. Together, they found an expert wine maker who transformed the wine to top-quality status.
“The sales rose fantastically!” says Rabbi Hoffman.
Over the years, the friendly Rabino has forged excellent work relationships with the plants’ employees and has become quite adept at hablando español (speaking Spanish). After completing an inspection, before he leaves a plant he’ll typically say, “Hasta la proxima!” (See you next time!)
So when you’re enjoying that hot cup of Nescafe or Taster’s Choice coffee, savoring Borges olive oil on your salad, or making a toast on Capcanes award-winning wines – think Spain! And of course, OU Kosher.