Friday, March 29, 2013

Musmanni Bakery…..a Sweet Staple found throughout Costa Rica!

For those that have traveled or lived in Costa Rica, Musmanni Bakery is a common and most welcome sight. Consistently serving a variety of quality breads, pastries, cakes, cookies and other convenience items, Musmanni is easily the best place to find a quick and delicious snack at a reasonable price. Considered the most popular bakery chain in Costa Rica, its welcoming orange lettered chef’s hat logo is immediately identified by “Ticos” wherever they travel throughout Central America.

Musmanni Early History:
The year 1902 brought the arrival of the Musmanni family to Costa Rica. Native to Italy, the original members consisted of Nicolas and Teresa Musmanni (mother & father) and their children Domingo, Carmela and Antonio, quickly followed by the birth of their forth son, Gaetano. The family started their new business in Costa Rica selling pasta, something that was literally in their blood, as they descended from a long line of Italian bakers. By 1929, the once young son, Domingo, built the first Musmanni Bakery on Central Avenue in the heart of San Jose, choosing to focus on fresh tasting, high quality mass production of bread.

Musmanni Family Grows:
In 1960, now some 30 years later, Franco Pacheco Musmanni, grandson of Domingo, returned from his studies in Chicago, Illinois, USA to start his own bakery business to be called Panaderia Pinova, S.A., specializing in sliced breads as to not directly compete with the Musmanni loaf style breads. Learning the business from the ground up and on his own, only 10 short years later, Franco bought the Musmanni Brothers Corporation, changing the official name to Musmanni International Corporation, in which he acted as president until his untimely death another 30 years later in 1999.

Musmanni Middle Years:
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz, Guanacaste celebrated the inauguration of the second Musmanni Bakery in the year 1973, followed a few years later by a third store. The sons of Franco joined the family business in 1980 as expansion of the chain began to require more and more of the family members efforts. This necessity brought fruition to the concept of franchising, which would enable a spreading out the work as well as the risk, while furthering the brand name, its distribution abilities, all while generating more profits for the growing Musmanni Corporation.

Franchising & Auto Service:
Midway through 1985, the concept of the Musmanni Franchise was officially launched, as it’s forth store opened in front of the popular and busy “Coca Cola” central market in downtown San Jose. This was followed only a few years later by the initiation of a new “auto service” (we make it, you bake it) system to be handled by their new subsidiary corporation, Premezclas Industriales para Panaderia, S.A. (Premixed Industries for Bakeries, S.A.), which manufactured pre-mixed bread dough to be offered at points of sale beyond Musmanni stores on a mass scale, enabling bakers to offer a fresher product without compromising time, quality or taste.

Bread School:
As the Musmanni brand continued to expand across Costa Rica, 1990 brought in a third Production Plant, larger Central Offices and an innovative company idea, the creation of UPAN, the University of Pan (Bread). Located in the San Jose suburb of La Uruca, the “University” and its outlying facilities were built to offer a central location for corporate operation, as well as extensive training to the future bakers of the Musmanni Corporation.

Continued Baking Success:
With the idea of simplifying the production process in their now 24 bakeries, Musmanni began production of frozen baking products in 1995, while the same year procuring the coveted ISO Certification of Quality Standards, one of the first in Costa Rica. This was followed only one short year later by a business alliance with the huge Subway Sandwich chain, as well as inaugurating new modernized production processes allowing the company to produce some 2500 units of product per hour. Other lucrative strategic distribution agreements followed with RICH’s (worldwide distributor of bakery products), as well as giant Pizza Hut Costa Rica & Panama. Lastly, the Musmanni Franchise model expanded to the capital of Panama, bringing the number of Musmanni stores to just under 50 stores, and growing to more than 70 by 1998, winning Mr. Franco Pacheco Musmanni “Businessman of the Year” by the Chamber of Industries.

Expansion Continues:
By 1999, Musmanni Bakeries could be found in Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, as well as Puerto Rico and more exclusive sales deals were closed with several of the largest supermarket chains in Costa Rica. This was also the year Musmanni Corporation celebrated the inauguration of its 100th store! In the next few years, another production plant would go on line, as well as larger offices and storage facilities to facilitate the ever growing business of baking bread, which had showed no signs of stopping as the total number of stores quickly grew to 157!

Musmanni Today:
Today Musmanni International consists of more than 200 outlets in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, as well as being the exclusive provider to such prestigious food chains and supermarkets as Pizza Hut, Subway, Quiznos, Perimercados, Multimercados. Musmanni products are served on the tables of many of the most prestigious Costa Rica hotels and restaurants, as well as throughout Central America. A Musmanni Bakery can be found on the street corner of almost any medium sized town in Costa Rica, and are admired for their dedication to quality bakery products. In 2008 the company launched two European style coffee houses called “Mundo de Café” (coffee world), that although mildly successful, will likely never match the wildly popular business model of their popular simple street front bakeries, which continue to thrive to this day!

So if you have ever had the pleasure of tasting Musmanni products, you surely are hungry by now and ready to head out to the nearest Musmanni bakery to satisfy that old sweet tooth. If you haven’t, you’ll just have to take my word for it, its good! For those of you in Costa Rica, as you bite into that next fresh pastry, or smear rich butter on another loaf of that soft warm bread, think of Nicolas, Domingo, Franco and the other members of the Musmanni family that sacrificed so much to bring from Italy over 100 years of baking pleasure!

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

Translated from the following Sources:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Easter in Costa Rica....Religious Parades, Beach Escapes & the Famous Miel de Chiverre!

Easter Week, or Semana Santa, is easily one of the most important weeks of the year for Costa Ricans. Full of important religious ceremonies celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this predominantly Catholic country finds most locals spending this week with family in prayer, heading out to the beach areas for a short vacation, or more commonly a combination of both. Traffic can be horrendous, in part because on Good Friday public bus routes shut down completely to allow employees time to celebrate the holiday with their own families. Public transportation options become limited and can be extremely crowded and inconvenient during this holiday.

In most areas of Costa Rica, the local Catholic Church organizes traditional masses, as well as daily religious processions or celebratory parades generally starting on Holy Wednesday, and continuing through Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Sometimes these ceremonies start as early as Monday, continuing through the entire week. Usually consisting of dramatic reenactments of Jesus’ journey through Jerusalem to his crucifixion and resurrection, with fake blood in place, some of the graphic depictions are not always pleasurable for the faint of heart.

Actors, dressed as Roman soldiers, take part with a host of other easily recognized characters in the journey towards Jesus’ eventual death. Most commonly spotted in these processions or local parades are Angels, Mary Magdalene, Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary, Apostles and naturally, Jesus, the most coveted dramatic role of all. Participants proclaim to have lived the last year free of sin, while following closely the church’s teachings, though this point could be argued in many a town. Nonetheless, considered a very serious event, large numbers of spectators line the streets to mourn, pray and celebrate.

Traditionally during Holy Week, practicing Catholics prepare special dishes centering around the main ingredient, Seafood. Keeping in line with the observance of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, delicious typical Costa Rican dishes are shared, such as rice and shrimp, fish ceviche, fried whole fish, canned tuna, as well as a variety of local desserts such as empanadas, rice pudding, rosquillas (donuts), polvorones (cookies), eggnog, Chicha (a hot drink made from aguadulce, ginger and cinnamon), and a popular jelly made from “chiverre”, a large squash similar to a watermelon. (See recipe below.)

Catholics are given all of Lent to attend Confession, while church hours are expanded to accommodate higher numbers arriving to confess before Easter, since the sacrament is not available Thursday through Sunday. The extended hours also allow further preparation for the processions including decorating and cleaning the religious effigies, many of which will take part in up to 10 processions, requiring different colored clothing for each one.

Tourists visiting Costa Rica, or “Ticos” not attending religious ceremonies with family, all head for the beach, converting sleepy beach towns into overcrowded party zones, while hotels in both small towns and tourist hubs throughout the country are in normal years completely booked months in advance. Travelers on roads leading to and from the coastal towns can sit in traffic for hours. San Jose and other Metropolitan Areas become literally deserted ghost towns as all government institutions, schools and banks close from Thursday to Sunday, or as is the case this year, many are closing from Sunday to Sunday.

In recent years, the common practice of enforcing the “Dry Law” during Holy Week has become a bit more relaxed, with enforcement by police officials sporatic and unorganized, especially in high tourist zones. The Dry Law specifies that as of midnight on Wednesday, all bars, restaurants and liquor stores close, and no alchohol can be served or sold until Saturday. According to Catholic tradition, followers are to refrain from drinking alchoholic beverages during the mourning of Jesus Christ, until his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Even though the majority of the Costa Rican population is Catholic, many citizens stock up on liquor and beer to take them through the festive week, while other entrepreneurial spirits make a side business of selling beer and liquor out the back door or even the trunk of their car during those dates.

Though many a devoted churchgoer may still choose to indulge in a drink or two, superstitions abound, and Ticos are known to keep an eye over their shoulder during this time. Many won’t swim in the ocean on Holy Thursday or Friday, fearing they will drown because God is angry. Others believe you can turn into a fish if you get in the water on Holy Friday. Another common superstition is the thought that the earth gets hotter, causing more earthquakes during this time. Surprisingly, this has been fairly true this year, but is more likely just a coincidence. An older superstition states that it is a sin to drive a car during Holy Week, and some small towns are said to still throw nails on the street to deter anyone who would consider the sin of driving during these dates. I thankfully have personally never seen this done in my 20 years of living in Costa Rica.

In one particular town, Ortega de Santa Cruz in Guanacaste, men continue to participate in an age old tradition that involves capturing a large crocodile with their bare hands on Good Friday and tying it up to put on display in the center of town. Even though the animal is released the following day, the tradition has been under scrutiny of animal and environmental conservationists for years and each year is said to be the last. Unfortunately, it has also grown in popularity as many curiosity seekers head to the small town to witness the exhibition in person.

On the positive side, it is widely agreed upon that some of the best weather and certainly some of the best sunsets of the year happen during Holy Week, another excellent reason to be at the beach. So should you find yourself in Costa Rica during this holiday week, feel free to come join in the festivities and be sure to try the Chiverre Jelly listed below!!

Miel de Chiverre
Large chiverre
Dulce de caña in (2) tapas or 1 kilo of granular brown sugar
250 grams brown tamarindo seeds (Optional)
250 grams of coconut pieces or flakes (Optional)
(Tapas of dulce de caña are the little circular blocks of brown sugar available at every Costa Rican market.)
Over a fire or using a kitchen burner, char as much as possible of the shell of the chiverre.
When done, hit the shell firmly with a hammer to expose the contents which looks like spaghetti squash or fine hairs.
Put the insides in a clean pillowcase and use the clothes drier to reduce the moisture.
When the chiverre contents are drier, cook it in a big sturdy pot over low heat. Cover the entire flesh of the chiverre with whichever sugar you are using, white, brown or the tapa. Sprinkle with the tamarindo seeds, cinnamon, cloves, lemon or orange peel and if desired, the coconut. The chiverre will naturally produce enough liquid to complete this process.
Cover the pot and let it cook slowly over low heat for 90 minutes, stirring often to avoid sticking.
Allow to cool and either transfer to a jar or use for other dishes.
The jelly is widely used in dessert empanadas, cookies and other dishes where a touch of sweetness is desired.

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.