Today we drove out to the Industrial Area of Ma’alot in search for what we believed was a cookie bakery. What we found was a cookie factory. A factory with an impromptu tour that sparked a few hours of factory tours and historical exploration.
First, the man who let us in put us in the hands of Gili, who turned out to be the wife of the owner. She took us on our tour, after we had donned our sanitary hair-nets, showing us the process of making cookies. The cookies being made were small sugar cookies with a jam filling. Here they are finished and ready for baking:
Here are some of the notable, interesting stages of the process that is the making of the petite, decorative cookie. A worker rolls the cookie dough over circle cutters:
And here the cookies are being constructed, a solid disk being prepped with a dallop of fruit-flavoured jelly to then be finished off with a cookie “ring” on top:
Once the cookies are baked they are taken to another room where they cool off and wait to be packaged. Here one of the packaging workers puts the cookies in plastic containers with a doilie to separate the layers:
After we had seen the numerous stages and the 15-20 workers furiously cranking out cookies (1,000+ packages per day), we took some more pictures. Here I am, hair-net on and hands secure and out of the cookies:
When we had seen enough, and enough pictures were taken we bid farewell to Gili and attempted to leave. She called us back and told us not to forget about the hairnets, telling us we might look silly walking around with them on. I risked it and poked my sanitary head into several other factories located in the vicinity. Nobody seemed to mind. But I minded that we hadn’t gotten any baked goods yet (we didn’t really wanna buy a package of cookies because we have eaten those cookies so many times before). I suggested that we seek out another bakery, a kosher Lebanese bakery in the nearby village of Mi’ilya (population 3,000). We drove to the Christian village and found the bakery, which turned out to be a factory as well:
Inside the pita factory we shuffled around in the flour-covered room and had some brief dialogue with a man there who seemed agreeable to our desire to explore the place. A man named John, the professed owner of the factory, allowed us to poke our noses nearly everywhere we wanted to. Here one of the men working there operates the dough mixer:
After the dough is mixed, it is then placed on a large table in the centre of the open area for rising:
As per the next stage, the first man we talked to showed us a machine that makes small balls of dough to expedite the process. Here the machine, which was imported special from Lebanon, is hard at work pumping out dough balls:
Once the dough balls are on their way, they get flattened and gradually turned into large flat disks. Here the disks are still in the flattening process as they travel around the room:
Once the disks have been flattened near paper-thin they are moved on the conveyor belt back and forth allowing them to slightly rise before the baking. After the dough disks have sufficiently risen they are passed through the tremendous furnace which made the entire room almost unbearably hot. John didn’t like people getting close to the oven but he allowed me to photograph it up close with his supervision. Here it is, the disks blown up into balloons of hot air bouncing out of the furnace:
After the dramatic baking, the pitas are again on a long track of conveyor belts as they cool and deflate, now boasting a handy pocket that can be filled with all sorts of foods. This part of the process I found to be very cool as the air was all floury and the sun was sneaking in.
And here the cooled pitas come bounching down for bagging. The bagging women specifically asked me not to photograph them so the end of the process will forever be a mystery for you, o’ reader.
Oh, and John handed us a free bag of fresh pitas “for the road”!
While we were in Mi’ilya we also stumbled upon ancient tombs hollowed out of solid chalk bedrock on the side of the road. The sign stated that the graves were from the Byzantine era (330-634 CE) and have been slightly damaged by water piping. Here is the most visible cave, clearly seen from the road:
Not only are there ancient burial caves in Mi’ilya, there is also a Crusader castle called King’s Castle when Mi’ilya was known as Castellum Regis. The castle was built sometime around 1160 CE when King Baldwin III of Jerusalem gave the Galilee region to a crusader in Haifa. It was only a matter of years before the castle was conquered by Saladin. King’s Castle and Monfort Castle nearby were then both acquired by the Teutonic Knights of modern-day Germany but by that time the bigger and more impressive Monfort Castle made King’s Castle less important. Here, local residents built their house using the ruined castle’s walls as well:
Once we had parked next to the house as far up as we could, we got out and climbed into the remains of the once noble Crusader castle. Today the site is neglected and grown over but the classic arches and windows live on:
We had to abandon our explorations prematurely due to school letting out but one day we should come back… with a metal detector! Who knows, maybe a knight in rusted armour is buried beneath the rubble…