How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

The former combine is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Regulators at the plant in Frey-Bentos

During the 19th century, a small town called Frey-Benthos, in the west of Uruguay, was considered the "great cuisine of the world." The industrial facility located here exported over 200 types of meat products throughout the world, especially corned beef, steaks and kidney pies. In 2015, he earned the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was not just an outstanding food supply center — it developed technologies that were adopted throughout the world.

The city of Fray Bentos was founded in 1859 and was originally called Villa Independencia. This area, located by the river basin bordering Argentina, was distinguished by lush meadows on which cattle could be grazed. Englishman Richard Hughes purchased the site in 1859 to produce corned beef.

However, the place turned into an industrial facility only in the 1860s, when engineer George Gibert bought the land. He founded the company Giebert et Compagnie (later known as the Liebig Extract of Meat Company). Gibert liked that there was a port in Uruguay that allowed people to export products all over the world. And he noticed that cattle were raised and slaughtered only for the sake of hides. (Here, cattle farming was much cheaper than in Germany.) As UNESCO notes, the location of the complex next to “fertile lands conducive to livestock and agricultural production” made it unique. Thus, Gibert brought cars from Scotland and began to breed cattle and produce meat in a new way.

The first great hit of his plant was the meat extract. It was developed in Europe when the German chemist Justus von Liebig created meat extract as a cheap food for poor Europeans. To do this, he took chunks of meat, cooked them in water and got something like a tonic, which later hardened. He created it in Munich, but without commercial prospects (German beef was too expensive).He offered his formula of meat tonic to everyone who was associated with the meat industry. Gibert contacted him, and Liebig moved to Uruguay, where he became the first scientific director of the plant. In an era when cooling was not standard, and sanitary conditions were problematic, the invention of Liebig gained many admirers. He was even mentioned in Jules Verne's science fiction novel "From Earth to the Moon in a Direct Way in 97 hours and 20 minutes." In the book, astronauts eat beef extract during their space travel.

However, for the preparation of meat tonic needed a ton of beef. As notes Argentina Independent, to produce one kilogram of tonic, it took 32 kilograms of beef. With the introduction of special technologies, the company has become a productive meat processing plant, both in terms of speed and in the use of each part of the animal, so to speak. At the peak of its development, the plant processed one cow in five minutes. Prior to this, the city “slaughtered a cow only in order to get a skin, tongue and part of the carcass,” as historian Rene Boretto told the BBC. The blood was re-profiled into organic fertilizer, the hairline into the hands, and the hoof into glue.The company even sold gallstones to the French perfume industry.

Nevertheless, another invention of Liebig became cult - canned corned beef. Twenty years after its opening, the meat processing plant faced high demand from exporters, especially European ones, with employees from 50 countries working on it. In 1924, he passed into the hands of the British owners, becoming a Frigorífico Anglo Del Uruguay. In the end, around him formed a whole community with housing, workers' cooperatives, the English school and sports facilities. At one time, 5,000 people worked at the meat processing plant, almost half of the city’s population (12,000 inhabitants). Electricity appeared in it three years earlier than in the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo.

 

Product label of a former Frei-Bentos meat processing company

The company's revolutionary approach was to centralize production. Livestock grazed nearby, workers processed and packed everything in place, the company even managed the export of its own products. Soon enough, similar technologies appeared in other places. In 1915, a large factory Frigorífico Puerto Bories opened in Chile.It was the first industrial facility that processed sheep with modern equipment. (Currently, in its place is an industrial museum.)

The ability of Fray Bentos to mass production of corned beef (including canned) has made products ideal for the conditions of the First and Second World Wars. According to CNN, because of the speed with which the company exported its products to Europe in difficult times, it began to be called the nation of "fat cows" all over the world.

The term "Fray Bentos" ("Frei-Bentos") also penetrated the soldier’s jargon. “During World War I, soldiers used Fray Bentos to say that something was good,” writes Boretto. In her book The History of Slang and Slang Dictionaries: Volume III, 1859-1936, Julie Coleman writes that the term is derived from the French "très bien", which means "very well." Julian Walker, author of The Words and the First World War: Language, Memory, Vocabulary, writes that he is probably connected with the English habit of teasing French soldiers with a pun, sometimes sincerely, and sometimes maliciously. In this particular case, the term “très bien” turned into “tres beans”, which eventually became “Fray Bentos.”

 

During the First and Second World Wars, a soldier's ration included canned corned beef Fray Bentos

This concept is ironic, considering how much the British troops hated rations with canned meat, hard cookies and marmalade. Canned corned beef has also become a staple in the nutrition of people living abroad during wars.

The plant closed its doors in 1979, but it still flashes in the headlines of articles related to military history. Earlier this year, employees of the Tank Museum in Dorset (England) shared a story about an abandoned carriage whose tank was stuck in the mud during the First World War. For three days, eight British soldiers were under attack by the German forces at the Battle of Paschendale in Belgium. They were known as Fray Bentos boys. Why? Before the war, their captain had a license to sell Fray Bentos. Inside the tank, they felt just like the popular canned meat they want to eat.

Objects in Frei-Bentos, where workers and meat processing equipment were once housed, are now located in the Museum of the Industrial Revolution. Some resourceful locals even included canned corned beef in the modern menu.The Frei Bentos complex was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 for its contribution to meat processing technology.

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  • How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world

    How the Uruguayan meat processing plant became iconic around the world