When we talk about processing, we mean the phase in which the prunes delivered by the producers are prepared and packed for sale. This is done by companies known as transformers, or processing companies. The fruit is delivered to these companies by the producers between the months of September and December.
And is completed in three steps :
According on how many prunes are needed for sale, the fruit is removed from the storehouse and prepared for retail.
This preparation includes 2 steps :
This is the step which enables the company to check the quality of the prunes delivered by the producer as they arrive on site. Regulations are severe, and only the best prunes pass. In particular, the rules concern the water content (23% maximum) and the type and proportion of defects considered unacceptable. Thanks to these stringent checks, only the very best prunes are selected. This step is very important, as it determines the quality of the production and affects the price which will be paid for the fruit.
This operation is designed to sort the dried plums purchased from the producer according to size. The grade corresponds to the number of individual prunes in 500g of fruit. In order to grade the prunes, they use a series of sheet metal grating layers. The openings in each layer are the same size, and let fruit of a certain size through while holding back all of those which are too big to fit through. This grading step also has an impact on the calculations of the harvests worth, and what will be paid to the producer. Each grade corresponds to a minimum price.
Once dried, the prunes must be stored so they can be sold all year long. This means they need to be preserved in an isothermal storage space (6°C and 70% humidity) and protected from light. They are stored in large crates (known as paloxes) which are ventilated to let air pass through. These are stored in large refrigerated warehouses.
To obtain a prune which is ready to eat and which has the soft, supple texture that customers are clamouring for, the prunes are rehydrated in water kept at 75/80°C for between 15 and 30 minutes. In this way, Agen prunes reach a maximum water content of 35%, giving them that soft, tender texture that consumers want. Further hydration (40% or higher) results in soft or over-hydrated prunes, but these cannot be sold as Agen prunes.