Fray Bentos is not jut a town, it is home to The food brand Fray Bentos is associated with tinned processed meat products, originally corned beef and, latterly, meat pies. The brand has been sold in the United Kingdom, other European countries, and Australia. Created in the latter half of the 19th century, the name is derived from the port of Fray Bentos in Uruguay where the products were originally processed and packaged until the 1960s. The brand is now owned in the United Kingdom by Baxters, which manufactures the product range in Scotland (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fray_Bentos_(food_brand)).
The port in Fray Bentos is on the Uruguay River and is one of the nation’s most important harbor. The town was founded as ‘Villa Independencia’ by Decree of 16 April 1859. Its current name Fray Bentos, meaning “Friar Benedict”, is derived from a reclusive priest (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fray_Bentos).
But it is not the present, but the history of Fray Bentos that we are interested in, so we visited the Museo de la Revolución Industrial, that was put on the map as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2015. We got there too late for the English tour (the tour starts at 10 am), but since we were the only ones there, we got the tour anyway, thanks to Nicolas, who work part time as a tour guide.
Your only chance to walk around the old factory is on a guided tour, so be there before 10 am. If you are too late, you are only allowed to walk around the smaller museum, where 95 % of the signs are only in Spanish. So Nicolas walked us through the old factory and the history of Fray Bentos.
In 1847, Justus von Liebig developed a concentrated beef extract in hopes of providing a cheap and nutritious meat substitute, “Extractum carnis Liebig”, for those unable to afford the real thing. His method was to trim the fat from the meat, break the meat into small particles, boil it with water to form a liquid of 6-8% solids, and then stir it over low heat, until it was reduced to a paste of 80% solids. However, in Europe meat was too expensive to economically supply the necessary raw materials to create the extract. In 1862, George Christian Giebert, a young Belgium railway engineer visiting Europe, read Liebig’s meat extract. Convinced that the process could be industrialized, he wrote to Liebig to suggest opening a manufacturing plant in South America. Using the flesh of cattle that, before the popularity of canning or freezing meat, would otherwise have been killed for their hides alone, he hoped to produce meat extract at one third of the European cost. By the end of 1864, 50,000 pounds of extract worth £12,000 had been exported and sold. In 1865, Giebert offered Liebig a directorship of the company, with an initial cash payment and an annual salary. The Liebig Extract of Meat Company was established on 4 December 1865 in London with a capital of £150,000. Liebig performed and supervised quality control testing on the product arriving to Europe, and promoted it as “the real” Liebig extract of meat. By partnering with Liebig, Giebert was able to claim that he was the officially sanctioned producer of Liebig’s meat extract (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebig%27s_Extract_of_Meat_Company)In 1865 the company established a factory in Uruguay to manufacture a beef extract product. The factory became Uruguay´s most important industrial complex. By 1875, 500 tonnes of the extract were being produced at the Fray Bentos plant each year. In 1873, the factory began manufacturing tinned corned beef, which was sold in Britain under the name Fray Bentos. Fray Bentos corned beef was targeted at a working-class market. The tins were also ideally suited as army rations as they weighed just one pound and were easily transportable. With the outbreak of the Boer War, the company’s profits were significantly boosted from supplying corned beef to the British Army in South Africa. But it was the Oxo beef cube, that became the factory’s signature product. The Oxo cubes sustained the troops in World War I together with corned beef, that continued during World War II, where Fray Bentos shipped more than 16 million cans of corned beef to Europe to the Allies in 1943 alone.
In 1924 the meat factory in Fray Bentos, was named the Anglo factory in Fray Bentos. The factory was now run by the British El Anglo. At its height, employed over 5,000 workers from more than 50 countries to process 400 cows an hour, and exporting nearly 150 different products. Old pictures from the work at the factory, shows how everything from the cows was used except from the its “moo”. Click on the picture to view it in full size .
In the immediate post-war years, the Fray Bentos products were a staple food in Britain. In 1958, Vestey began manufacturing Fray Bentos pies in England, and production was moved to a plant in the London Borough of Hackney. In 1964, the use of the brand for corned beef was significantly damaged when an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen, in which three people died, was traced to a tin of Fray Bentos corned beef imported from South America. The corned beef had been contaminated with untreated water as a result of the cooling process during manufacture. At the end of the 1960s, Vestey disposed of the Anglo factory to the Uruguayan government. The factory was closed on Monday the 14th of October 1979, after 117 years in operation, and the local history museum opened on the site in March 2005.
Liebig’s meat extract is a molasses-like black spread packaged in an opaque white glass bottle, which contains reduced meat stock and salt (4%). The ratio of meat to meat extract is 32 to 1: it takes 32 kg of meat to make 1 kg of extract. The extract was originally promoted for its supposed curative powers and nutritional value as a cheap, nutritious alternative to real meat. As subsequent research brought its nutritional value into question, its convenience and flavor fullness were emphasized, and it was marketed as a comfort food.Back to the pictures and the tour: This is were the cows would enter the factory. A employee hit the cow with a big sledgehammer, so it collapsed. Then the throat was cut to drain the blood, while the cow was hanging on the conveyor belt for transportation through the slaughter house.
The conveyor belt transported the meat directly to the big freezer that was 4 levels tall, 40 meters wide and 100 meters long
Fat was made into soap, while the meat was processed to created the meat extract. After boiling the meat and water was filtered (left picture), before the clear bouillon was drained into the big silo’s, where the evaporation of the water took place (right picture).
Heavy machinery and big diesel engines were producing the electricity for the process
Heavy machinery need heavy tools, the big metal rings are for the pistons
Close up photos from the factory
When the factory closed on Monday the 14th of October the office was left untouched
Close up photos from the office
Old typewriters (In the right picture you see the first edition of a touch screen)
In the museum is the old scale, and it is still working
Finishing the visit with a selfie at the selfie point, before walking back to the place where we were wild camping
It is one of most beautiful places we have camped
What a view – what a sunset
It is time to explore more of Uruguay…