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The Birth of Nog

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Knocking around on his desktop calculator, Jan tenPas puts eggnog into perspective: This year, during the nine-week holiday season alone, the Supervalu fluid dairy (just off I-95 in the shadow of The Diamond) where he works, will churn out 2 million servings of the stuff for sale across the mid-Atlantic.

Compare that to, say, the 125,000 servings of chocolate milk they'll whip up in the same period and you begin to grasp just how insatiable the American appetite is for this oddball beverage.

The history of eggnog is sketchy at best, but by most accounts its heritage dates to the egg-and-milk drinks popular in England in the 17th century and earlier; Americans added the all-important rum part. But tenPas — now the vice president and general manager of Supervalu's Richmond Dairy Division (formerly owned by Richfood) — knows something about the tradition. "I grew up on a farm," he says. "I remember my mom in the kitchen making eggnog, whipping eggs, adding milk and sugar. Here it's no different."

TenPas is a lighthearted guy with a stern eye for quality — exactly the kind of exec you want overseeing the mass production of holiday cheer. He likes to joke that he's got a 1,000-gallon mixing bowl up above his office. It could hardly have escaped the suits in corporate that he was a natural for the job.

TenPas prefaces our tour with a rundown of the nog varieties. "We make Regular, Colonial Custard" — a spice-free concoction formerly called Boiled Custard — "and fat-free, which as far as I'm concerned, why bother?"

"We're just trying to come up with a nog you can drink by itself," he says, "but one you can also do something with." He mentions Captain Morgan's rum, a little extra nutmeg, whatever. But that's post-production stuff. For now, he wants to show me the plant.

The one great humiliation of touring the facility is the mandatory hairnet. TenPas pulls one from a wall dispenser and hands it to me, and with billowing mesh clouds above our heads we press through the doors to the production line. A rush of sound meets us, tile floors swirling with wetness, machines bang and churn. Countless half-gallons of tropical fruit drink hurry from pasteurization to packing machines, as nog is being prepared upstairs. The fluid dairy knows no season.

We cross a rooftop to a vast room full of ingredients: pallets of sugar, rum extract and 50-gallon drums of eggnog concentrate. The place is brimming with the scent of nutmeg.

This plant has been open for 36 years, tenPas tells me. "We're like a family here," he says. "Eggnog kind of brings in the holidays. I've got guys working here 10, 20 years. Every year in September and October they tell me, 'Ooh, it's almost time to be run eggnog again.' It gives them something to do besides run milk, juice and bottled water."

And, apparently, there's a passionate fan base out there. "We get letters every year," he says. "People say, 'We love this nog. Don't ever change it or we'll shoot

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