Sorry about the delay with this. I've been absolutely snowed under these last couple of weeks. This write up will be a bit briefer than I would have liked but hopefully it will be of some interest.
The trip came about when I passed on some queries (originally raised by another manufacturer) to Markus Mühle by email. The suggestion was that the processing temperatures claimed by MM must be too low. MM obviously refuted the suggestion and invited me over to see for myself.
The factory is about 40 minutes drive from Frankfurt in a pretty little village called Hintermühlen. It's quite unlike any pet food factory I have been to before, made up of a collection of relatively unassuming, almost pretty green buildings clustered around a stream and the cottage where company owner Markus Olberts was born and still lives.
The staff were very welcoming and happy to discuss at length any topic I raised.
I mostly spoke with Markus Olberts and Peter Doepp, the company's Executive Officer & Press Officer. I was also given an extensive tour of two of the three mills.
Some key points:
The maximum processing temperature on site is indeed 40-45 Celsius as the company claims. I examined the processing line from start to finish, placing my hand on each piece of equipment including the press itself to get a gauge of the temperature and at no point did it rise above what I would describe as lukewarm. There was no use of steam and the maximum pressure throughout the process is 1.4 bar. It was a world away from extrusion.
Of course, due to this low temperature, practically all of the ingredients have to be cooked beforehand which is why some critics of cold-pressing believe it's not all that it's cracked up to be. This was one of the key topics of our conversations - how the pre-cooking affects nutrient levels and how the nutritional value of cold pressed foods stacks up against other types of foods - particularly extruded and raw.
In answer to the first part - how pre-cooking affects nutrient levels - Markus and Peter were keen to highlight the very high quality and traceability of their raw ingredients which, they believe, contain much more intact natural nutrients than the bog-standard ingredients used in most pet foods. While this is a reasonable assumption, there simply isn't enough data available on how much cooking (and particularly the production of meat meal) affects ingredient nutrient levels to allow us to do anything more than speculate.
And comparing cold-pressing with other dog food types, MM were unsurprisingly critical of extrusion where, they believe, the high temperatures and extensive processing are responsible for large-scale nutrient loss. Again, however, no real data is available to support this. Interestingly, Markus did suggest that, when done right, raw food is probably better than any dry food.
Markus Olberts designs his formulas around the diets of wolves and regularly visits a wolf sanctuary in Spain. One of the chief assertions behind the recipes and the relatively high proportion of carbohydrates is that wolves will prioritise eating the semi-digested stomach contents of their herbivorous prey even above muscle tissues etc. This claim, however, has been widely challenged (read more here
) and I'm afraid I am currently unable to confirm one way or another.
The factory is small, almost pretty. Inside it's clean (REALLY clean), bright and airy. It combines traditional cold pressing techniques with modern electronic monitoring technology. From my brief look around, the staff seemed happy and well looked after.
Despite it's relatively small size, the company produces 2,500 tons of pet food every month. Both the ingredients silos and the warehouse are turned over very regularly so nothing is left standing for any extended period.
The processing method is, by all accounts, very simple. The ingredients are ground, mixed and pressed into the distinctive cylinder shaped biscuits. They are then cooled to room temperature using fresh air drawn in from outside and bagged.
Quality control tests are carried out at just about every stage including each ingredient batch that arrives and each batch of finished product that leaves. They have their own on-site lab and also send samples out to independent labs for analysis.
The entire facility is run on green energy from hydroelectric.
The company makes numerous charitable donations including a very sizeable monthly donation to a huge dog shelter in Romania.
From talking with Markus and Peter, it does seem that there is a big difference between the cold pressing they do and what happens at other cold pressing pet food factories around Europe. I'll be doing more research on this.
Overall I was very impressed by Markus Mühle. Everyone that I spoke to seemed to a have a genuine excitement for what he or she was doing. This enthusiasm as well as the obvious passion for pets and the environment were quite compelling. In terms of the products, the combination of high end ingredients and the very gentle processing method make a sound case for a very very good dry food more data is necessary to say how it compares to other foods.
Sorry about the slightly jumbled info. If you have any questions, please reply below and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.