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So Cincinnati: Doscher's Candy Canes

CINCINNATI (Josh Knight) -- Just as the summer heat really seems to be kicking in, if people step inside Doscher's Candies, they might think it's starting to look a lot like Christmas.

For the local candy maker, cooking and hooking candy canes the old fashioned way, is almost a year round business.

In an unassuming building on Court Street in Downtown Cincinnati, Doscher's Candies makes their famous French Chew. But the smell of peppermint permeates each room and people would think Christmas was around the corner.

"We started picking up the pace a little bit in June and by July we were full go," said Greg Clark, the owner of Doscher's Candies.

The Doscher Brothers started their candy shop in 1871 making caramel popcorn. In the early 1900's that expanded to French Chew, their famous taffy, and not long after they began making candy canes. Greg Clark, formerly a financial adviser, took over 10 years ago. Not much has changed.

"We did not change our formula, we did not change our recipe, or any of the processes, the hand making of it and we don't mass produce it," Clark said.

Each batch takes 50 pounds of sugar and 33 pounds of corn syrup to turn out about 1,500 candy canes. The sugars cook in some of the original copper pots. After it is thoroughly cooked, the excess moisture is vacuumed out and the molten candy concoction is poured onto a heated table.

"Our primary concern is not to let it run off the table," Clark said as he and his cook put on their special gloves and grabbed their spatulas to work the more than 200 degree candy.

As it cools, it is separated and some is dyed red. The color at first is a caramel hue. In order to get that classic candy cane white it is stretched on the taffy spinner.

"I wouldn't say it's a secret, but it's the key ingredient into allowing them to breath," said Clark.

It's also at this point that they add the peppermint oil. After a few minutes, they beat it off the spinner, they form a white log and wrap the red stripes around the outside and take it to the candy roller. It is stretched and squished until it is a thin rope and a machine cuts it into smaller sticks. Then the straight canes are hooked by hand, often by Clark's wife, into the traditional shape.      

"The end result is that you get a much better crunchy, chewy, quality cane," Clark said.

The process is time consuming and more expensive than how most candy canes are produced. Doscher's is one of just a handful of candy makers still doing it like this.

Clark said, "We continued to not change and everybody else did change. The changing probably started occurring in the 80's."
               
When Clark took over in 2004 he initially thought the process was too labor intensive, "I said that's the first thing that's got to go. As I started hearing more stories from the people who come down every Christmas to buy the canes or the broken peppermint and what a tradition it is and how they bring their kids down, I couldn't find it in my heart to discontinue it," Clark said. "I had to find a way to make it profitable as well as fun and keep the tradition in Cincinnati going."

Clark established an early and important relationship with Kroger, their biggest client. Now boxes of Cincinnati's favorite candy cane are shipped around the country, but first they get a 'Made in the USA' sticker.

"People tend to say, 'Well it's made in the USA, that's a rare thing for a candy cane.' So they buy it, go home try it and love it, then they'll come back and buy 4 or 5 more boxes," Clark explained.

He said some people have already started coming in to buy the peppermint, "They just go ga-ga over it. They just absolutely love it and they bring their kids and their kids bring their kids and it just becomes a tradition."

If people don't think they've ever tried one of Doscher's candy canes, they actually may have.  The broken pieces are sold to Graeter's, Aglamesis Brothers, other bakeries, and ice cream shops around town to make their own peppermint concoctions.

They will turn out about 700 thousand candy canes in 2014, up from about 530 thousand last year. Clark plans to keep growing and says if they do, they might be making candy canes all year long to keep up!




Follow Josh Knight on Twitter @joshknightwx, and LIKE him on Facebook.

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