In Madeira, around 10 thousand tons of sugar cane are produced annually.
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We arrived at the Engenhos do Norte facility, in Porto da Cruz, at the best possible time: the beginning of the annual sugarcane processing campaign. The process takes place between March and May — the rest of the year, doors are open to satisfy the curiosity of visitors but not much happens there. At this point, a lot is happening.
Luís Faria, one of those responsible for this family business, explains the entire route of the raw material, from reaching the premises in the cargo compartment of the trucks until entering the machines that extract all its juice. “Three are steam, two are electric. We are the only device in Europe that still works with steam engines”, guarantees the host.
The name “Engenhos”, in the plural, is because this mill was the result of a combination of several that existed in Porto da Cruz in 1927, the date of its foundation. At that time there were around the island half a hundred such installations. Today there are only six. The building is marked by a huge red brick chimney, almost 30 meters high, which does not let it go unnoticed.
In Madeira, around 10 thousand tons of sugar cane are produced annually. Engenhos do Norte buys the raw material from farmers in Ponta do Sol, Calheta, São Jorge and Santana. The entire product is processed and bottled by the company: neither the sugarcane nor the sugarcane juice, so appreciated in Brazil, for example, is sold.
Thus, the cane is unloaded, enters the mats that lead to the machines, and is squeezed. The juice that comes out of it is filtered, the brix degree corrected and is pumped to the upper floor deposits where it ferments before further distillation and storage for ageing.
In short, this is the process, and the waste - the so-called sugarcane bagasse - currently has agricultural purposes (fertilization and feeding) but, in the future, it could be the fuel for a biomass boiler capable of producing enough energy to feed all the machines from the Engenhos do Norte.
The result can be seen in the store, immediately next to the factory, where the various brands of agricultural rum by J.Faria e Filhos are displayed, with ageing periods that vary from one another. Just like the prices.