One hundred and twenty six years is a long time, over a century – surely enough to perfect any art or craft, even a sweet treat. Under the name of NC Candy Company, Piedmont Candy Company opened in Lexington in 1890. That same year, Edward Ebelein was 17 years old, living in Germany – little did he know his future would lead him to Lexington and better yet – to becoming the sole owner of Piedmont Candy Company and later pass the business down through generations of his family. In 1919, Ebelein moved to Lexington specifically to work at Piedmont Candy Company. Following the years prior, the company was already making the melt-in-your mouth, delectable peppermints that tend to grow in popularity and nearly disappear off the shelves come Christmas. Yet, it was no easy feat, a lot of manual labor is needed to get everything to minty perfection including the use of open copper kettles to heat pure can sugar to 300 degrees.
Jenna Paquin, from Piedmont Candy Company, describes how modern technology has increased production – “It used to take us two days to make a single batch, and so we could produce 1,500 pounds of candy a day. Although we still use a lot of hands on application, the introduction of minimal technology has increased our capacity so that it only takes us 90 minutes to produce a single batch and we are able to make 55,000 lbs. of candy on a daily basis.”
In 1987 the Ebelein’s sold the company to the Reid family. While Doug Reid spent most of his time working in textiles, he continues to strive for USA production. Piedmont Candy Company is one of the few in the business that still produce in America. Although times surely change – some things stay the same. Red Bird still uses 100% pure cane sugar, all-natural peppermint oil, and a lil’ bit of good ol’ labor creating the stripes by hand. Paquin describes the process in depth “The sugar is cooked and then pulled on pulling machines. We pull off a small portion of each 100lb. batch for the red stripes and then send the rest of the batch to be pulled. As the candy is being pulled, we add in the peppermint oil and then roll it into cylindrical logs and apply the stripes. Lastly, the candy is rolled out until it becomes a very thin rope and cut into the round candies that are then wrapped.”
It seems to pay off, every second 30 Red Bird Mints are consumed, Red Bird peppermint puffs equate for 85% of the company’s business, and in the week leading up to Christmas, one million bags, sticks and tubs are sold. Red Bird peppermints come in addictive, mini-form, traditional puff, and also 4-inch candy sticks.
So what makes Red Bird so popular? Paquin notes “We still make it very authentically by hand, with real ingredients the same way we have for 126 years. It is different from so many other candies out there because it is pure-cane-sugar-base so it melts in your mouth.” She also said while Peppermint is their best seller, they’ve experimented with other flavors and Cotton Candy is a close second in popularity.
One way to ring in the season is a Peppermint Champagne Cocktail:
Peppermint Champagne Cocktail
Cream de Cocoa liqueur
Crushed Red Bird Peppermint Puffs
Lightly dip the rim of the champagne cup in honey, then roll in crushed peppermint. Pour 1 oz. Cream de Cocoa liqueur into the coup, then top off with chilled champagne. Add a Red Bird Peppermint stick as a garnish. The drink will fizz when you add the peppermint stick, and it will turn pink the longer the stick stays in the drink. Red Bird mints can be purchased at a variety of retailers and locations.