"Good morning sirs, welcome to Mezze, please wear these white suits and cover your heads." Until then everything was normal; but what I wasn't expecting was to sign a disclosure agreement! Yes, to visit Mezze, you have to sign a paper promising that you don't have any medical problems and can't contaminate the food inside.
Today's visit was scheduled a long time ago, to the factory which produces the food I have been eating since my childhood days… and I wish I had done so earlier. Honestly, I was expecting a homey clean place, but not the ultimate in professionalism and sanitization.
The first glass door opens on the delivery area where frozen food is first received, cold items come next followed by vegetables at normal temperature. The golden rule: nothing dirty enters these doors, so all the vegetables are cleaned and classified before passing the next door. All the food is meticulously checked before reception, despite the fact that all suppliers are certified and approved.
The factory is divided into two floors, the reception and packaging down below, and the food production and cooking areas on the first floor, both connected by elevators taking freshly-produced goods to the walk-through freezers.
The first impression:
- The factory is clean like snow
- The white walls are so clean, as if they were painted today
- Everything is labeled with a reception date, production date and expiry date
- Charts are everywhere: A cleaning chart, hygiene chart, visitors chart, employees chart...
"We plant our own vegetables in Mayrouba, Rania tells me. Dr. Rania Chbat, the daughter, who's a dentist by profession, handles food safety and hygiene. She's the boss around here, obliging everyone to abide by strict rules. “Not to lose time choosing suppliers before analyzing their products, we decided to plant our own, create our own freezer bags, produce our own tomato paste and give the consumer the real homemade taste he expects to have, that's our main priority,” Rania explains.
The Khalil family story started in 1990. Mrs. Siham, mother of the girls, used to master the art of cooking at home. That same year, Rania had her annual university party and offered to bring food from home. Everyone loved mom’s cooking and here is where the story all began. “Al Mazat” was the first brand name. Gathering around her women from the area, the kitchen started producing those tasty bites, the same ones still enjoyed today.
I was impressed by the professionalism around the premises; the green uniforms, the synchronization of work, the little details of production, sanitizing hands every 10 minutes and, most importantly, the fresh smell overpowers the place... You feel like you're at home. A family spirit takes over the factory even with the workers, who the girls call “aunties”.
“The taste that’ll make you feel good”, is the slogan and yes, those bites do make you feel good. “We never advertise, we don’t invest in ads because we know that our quality speaks for itself,” says Rania.
On the ground floor is the reception area, as well as the delivery sectors where large freezers maintain cooked food at -20 degrees Celsius. Up on the first floor is the factory, where each room is separated from the other; the red-knife room where all the meat is prepared, the green-knife room where the vegetables are prepared and the closed, white-knife room where dough and cheese is processed. At the end of the corridor is the large preparation area where Lebanese women, mothers from the villages of Lebanon, prepare the bites around the stainless steel table.
Some details worth mentioning:
- Even though delivered in freezer trucks, the food is sent in thermos containers to reach the supermarkets at the perfect temperature. That’s a premiere for me.
- The facility is strictly air-conditioned during summer and winter times
- Meat is brought in individual bags and used on daily basis with an expiry date of 48 hours
- Every detail is considered: Cheese is ordered with 5% salt to avoid touching it and soaking it in water on the premises
Now for the preparation. The golden rule is that meat cannot stay outside of the fridge for more than 30 minutes. It is prepared within 10 minutes, pre-prepared and mixed within 10 minutes, and filled inside the kebbeh in 10 minutes before going in the shock freezer which takes it down to -20 degrees.
Good to know:
- The batch number is the production date for easier handling
- Work is divided by times: Meat in the morning and other food types in the afternoon
- Hand cleaning takes place every 10 to 15 minutes all day long
- No hand towels are used, only air dryers
- Traceability: They know which meat and which rice is used in every batch, production date and batch number are the same
- The factory has a sample of all the batches, left for a year in case of need
- Kebbeh Mehchieh
- Kebbeh bel Sanieh
- Kebbet Laktine
- Chich Barak
- Sanboussek be Lahme
- Sanboussek be Jebne
- Rkakat be Lahme
- Rkakat be Jebne
- Sfiha be Lahme
- Ftayer be Sbenigh
- Warak 3arish be Zeit
- Warak 3arsih be Lahme
- Kharouf Mehchi
- Riz A Djej
- Chich Barak
- Kebbeh Blaban
Spinneys, TSC, Monoprix, Caliprix, Metro, Golden Star, Bou Khalil and many others and their products are also sold to Saudi Arabia.
And now was tasting time:
- Sambousik: Small golden half circles which are like candy. Thin dough, airy and fluffy, crunchy on the outside and rolled by hand, one at a time. A juicy moist heart, a tender, soft heart with an aftertaste that stays for a while.
- Fried cheese rolls: A ten-centimeter cylinder, fried to perfection, filled with a slightly salty cheese trapped inside a crunchy envelope. Not oily, an interesting salty taste... Yes, real cheese and nothing synthetic!
- Kebbe: A thick crunchy envelope, a tender Kebbe wrap and inside a fine meat mixed with fried pine nuts. I love the richness, the spices and the saltiness that stays around for some time.
- Pizza: It’s rare that frozen pizza taste that good. Covered with tomato and cheese, a interesting acidity, the cheese and crunchy dough that's, most importantly, not chewy.
- Sfiha: A square bread, crunchy on the sides and filled win a moist heart. Ground meat that's so tender and fresh.
- La2tin: That's super great! I'm not a pumpkin kebbe fan, but those are superb. The same great kebbe envelope and inside a lemon heart, perfectly cooked chard... Yummy! Focus on the chickpeas, the cooked onions... Loved it!
- Spring Rolls: Mmmm... Large, no soy sauce needed, a crunchy border, lightly sweet heart, oil-free and some crunch from the carrots and cabbage. Who said that spring rolls cannot be perfectly created in Lebanon?
- Zaatar: Not just any Zaatar, but one that's mixed with diced tomatoes and has an intense Zaatar flavor. No acid burn, and something that will make you want to eat another piece.
We do have, here in Lebanon, companies that abide by the finest of food hygiene rules and serve some very good food. It’s our duty to support them. This is what I eat at home and will continue to do so...
Lebanese Mezze Establishment; Zouk Michael, Kesrouan, Lebanon. +961 9 213807