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100 Things: Smell the Cheerios

"Inhale, my dear."

So said Maggie Smith to Helena Bonham Carter in the Merchant/Ivory classic "A Room With a View." They were breathing in the fragrant air of Florence, Italy.

Well many Western New Yorkers say the same thing, basking in the sugary scent of roasting Cheerios.

Is there any sweeter aroma in the world? It radiates from the General Mills plant, located on the Buffalo River on South Michigan Avenue.

The smell is all the sweeter because it can be fleeting. One day it's there. The next, it's not. It might delight you at 8 a.m., and by noon it is gone. It can be especially intense in the middle of the night, say News reporters who work late hours.

[RELATED: Last week's 100 Things, which takes place this weekend, is Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament]

Boxes of General Mills' Cheerios perch on grocery store shelves throughout the United States. (Getty Images)

"The aroma of Cheerios may come and go depending on weather and what we’re making that day," General Mills publicist Kelsey Roemhildt explained, when asked about that phenomenon. She pointed out: "At the Buffalo plant, we proudly make Cheerios, but we also make other family favorites like Chex and Lucky Charms."

When you're very lucky, the Cheerios scent mingles with the aroma of roasting coffee from McCullagh Coffee Roasters, on Swan Street. This is a delirious combination, and one that carries with it a heavy whiff of history. McCullagh dates to 1867.

Our General Mills plant, the company's oldest in America, could well be the oldest still-operating cereal plant in the nation. It has been making flour since 1904, long before General Mills acquired it, in 1928.

Warren Emblidge III, left, took over in 2014 as
president of McCullagh Coffee from his father, Warren Emblidge Jr.. They're pictured at their Swan St. location. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Cheerios first emerged from the plant in 1941. At first they were called CheerioOats. The name was changed in 1945. The Buffalo plant cranks out sixty-two million boxes of Cheerios a year, in addition to other cereals and Gold Medal flour.

How stirring, to see grain elevators in use, for grain. And every few months, General Mills welcomes a distinguished visitor. The American Mariner, the largest freighter Buffalo sees these days, pulls into the harbor loaded with oats. It's a thrilling sight, and a rare reminder of the days when Buffalo was, as historian Tim Tielman once memorably put it, "the greatest grain port known to man."

Perhaps that's a reason we love that aroma so much. Cheerios are also made in Cincinnati, Ohio; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Covington, Ga. But no one else brags about them the way we do, Roemhildt believes.

No one brags about Cheerios quite as much as Buffalo. Pictured is the inside of the General Mills facility in downtown Buffalo. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

She said: "As far as we know Buffalo residents are the only location with T-shirts boasting the smell."

"My city smells like Cheerios," announces a popular T-shirt made by Born in Buffalo. Individually, too, Western New Yorkers swoon over the scent.

Mike Beato, an avid Amherst runner, ran in the recent Heart and Soul 5K race, which took them into Cheerios neighborhood. He exulted: "It took runners down South Park Avenue, Michigan Avenue and Seneca Street, enjoying the smell of Cheerios along the way. Loved it!"

"We get the Cheerios aroma strong whenever we kayak the Buffalo River," said Michelle Savit Polonski, of Orchard Park. "Along with the aroma of chicken wings, it is the smell of Buffalo."

Make a pilgrimage to the Cheerios plant. You can't go in, but you can get close to it. You'll be enveloped in a loud, somnolent roar. If you're there at the right time, the aroma will be overpowering.

There could be a scientific reason it makes you so happy.

A closer peek at the boxes of Cheerios as they're stored in the warehouse before they're shipped to various retailers. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News file photo)

Frann Rocca, a certified aromatherapist, is the owner of a company called Sentir, which means to smell and feel simultaneously. Born in Niagara Falls, she sells her creations at Turnstyle Designs, 298 Ashland Ave.

"All of our memory and emotion is stored the limbic system in the brain, and it's a lock and key mechanism," Rocca said. "When we smell something, that key unlocks the memory and the feeling of something."

Sugary aromas can be especially emotional.

"When you smell baking cookies, cakes, the feeling that evokes joy or a childlike nurturing part of our life. It connects us to our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, holidays. If you're not feeling good they bring you something sweet. I feel it's very nurturing, those scents. They unlock certain memories, without us really realizing.

"I went to visit a friend many years ago. I made her a light lavender lotion," Rocca added. "She opened up the bottle and started crying tears of happiness. Because she grew up in England, with lavender growing everywhere. She hadn't been back to England for years."

So might a Western New York expat weep joyous tears, breathing in the aroma of roasting Cheerios.

Inhale, my dear.

You're home.



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