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Oreo Cookie Birthday: It's Been 100 Years Since The First Lids Was Twisted Off An Oreo

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MONTREAL - For every frustrated Oreo-lover, every cookie aficionado lamenting the level of effort it takes to twist open the three-layer creation before that fleeting moment of satisfaction where you sop up the small sliver of sugary goodness inside, this place is a revelation.

Here, in east-end Montreal, in the shadow of Olympic Stadium, lie the gigantic tubs where they make that magical filling.

It's where they keep each 720-kilogram batch of that elusive concoction of icing sugar, oil and vanilla.

In fact, this big concrete building is where all of Canada's Oreo cookies are made. The place where more than one billion cookies each year are produced for enthusiasts coast-to-coast who have twisted, licked and dunked them.

It's one of 21 Oreo factories in the world, and there's little about it that would identify it to a passerby as the place that launched a billion sugar rushes. The Kraft Bakery on Viau Street is in fact so non-descript that most Montrealers are likely unaware of its existence — unless, that is, they catch a whiff of the sweet smell emanating from it.

On Wednesday, the building opened its doors to media cameras for an event that was one-part corporate promotion, one-part cultural celebration.

The Oreo cookie is turning 100.

SEE: Oreo flavours from around the world. Story continues below:

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The iconic sandwich-style delight is celebrating its centenary next week with celebrations planned around the world, including Canada, where the popular snack has been a staple in the pantry for more than 60 years.

Canada is Oreo's fourth-largest market — behind the United States, China and Venezuela. Kraft Foods says global sales of Oreo cookies are about $2 billion yearly.

It's dubbed milk's favourite cookie but, according to the company, only about half of Oreo eaters prefer the popular "twist, lick and dunk" method of eating it. According to that company research, it's a tradition more popular among women than men.

"The beauty of Oreo is regardless of where you come from, people are very passionate about their favourite cookie," said Emmanuelle Voirin, senior product manager for Kraft Canada.

The design of the original cookie consists — as you are probably aware — of white sugar cream between two chocolate wafer cookies and hasn't changed much since the creation was first sold on Mar. 6, 1912 in New Jersey. It has since evolved to include numerous flavours and is used in a wide range of recipes, mainly desserts and ice cream.

The Montreal factory that serves as home to the Canadian version of the popular sandwich cookie opened its doors to the media for the first time in its history to mark the anniversary.

Oreos were actually introduced to Canadians in 1949, when the snack came north of the border as well as to Newfoundland and Labrador, which joined Confederation in March of that same year.

The cookie's Canadian home since 1956 has been a 300,000-square-foot plant near the Olympic Stadium. The entire process of making the cookie takes about 90 minutes.

"It's very similar to what you do at home," said plant manager Michel Cartier.

However, Cartier notes, the process is done on a much larger scale. It involves a series of heavy machines, a maze of conveyor belts and a massive oven.

"We're making 3,000 cookies per minute or more than one million per eight-hour shift," Cartier said.

The process involves five major steps:

—It begins with the creation of a 937-kilogram tub of Oreo cookie dough made from flour, sugar, oil, dark cocoa, water and baking soda.

—That mixture is then flattened out and molded into its popular cookie shape, complete with 12 distinctive flowers and the Oreo logo.

—The cookies are then baked in an 85-metre-long industrial oven at various temperatures before being flipped and readied for the creme filling.

—And, finally, they produce the centre, that creamy creation that comes to life as a mixture in two 361-kilogram tubs. That's enough to fill about 100,000 cookies at a time.

—The cream is eventually dropped onto the cookies and sandwiched together before they're packed in trays and packaged. All of this is done with heavy machinery and under the watchful eye of about 25 employees per shift.

Of the Kraft plant's 500 employees, 125 work on the Oreo line, and some have been doing it for over 40 years.

Even as they celebrate their centenary, the online debate over the quality of the cookies — mainly between North American rivals Canada and the United States — is well documented.

Voirin admits there are slight differences in the flavours, but that's a given for Oreos worldwide.

"We get a lot of Canadian ex-pats who live in the U.S. who ask us to send us the Canadian Oreo because that's the one they love," Voirin said. "There are slight differences in flavours and that's really to reflect local favourite preferences in taste."

For example, in China, the popular version is green tea ice-cream flavour. In Latin America, there is a banana and dulce de leche-filled cookie.

Last year, Oreos were introduced in Germany, India and Poland.

"There's always a different flavour depending on where you are in the world," Voirin said.

Oreos are now sold in 100 countries around the world.

Celebrations will be held in different parts of Canada and, to mark the anniversary, a 100th-anniversary limited edition birthday cake version of the cookie is in stores.

"You don't turn 100 very often so we're making it a big event here in Canada," Voirin said.

Part of the celebration will include a heavy online presence inviting cookie enthusiasts to share their memories on a website. Oreo has over 25 million "likes" on Facebook, with fans in 183 countries including 40 in Vatican City. Canada alone has close to a million fans.

That is way too many people to invite to one birthday celebration — a pool party, perhaps, in the cream-filled vats on Viau Street.

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