Food Factories

Ever wondered how cheese, pretzels or taffy is made? Find out on a factory tour.

By Laura Smith

To see the original article in Groupaway Magazine, click here.

Biting into a salty, crunchy pretzel or taking a lick off the top of a cold ice cream cone can instantly put you in a better mood. Everyone has a favorite treat they reach for to satisfy a sweet tooth or a late-night craving. We all know what the packages look like on the grocery-store shelves, but to really know what you’re digging into, take a tour of these group-friendly food factories. They offer behind-the-scenes looks at the manufacturing of some of America’s favorite foods and share their fresh treats with visitors straight from the assembly line.

Cabot Cheese

Cabot, Vermont

The central Vermont woods might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of dairy products, but that’s where Cabot Creamery is creating award-winning cheddar cheese, rich butter and more. Tours begin with a short film on the history of the creamery, which is also a farmers’ co-op, and the town. Visitors then head down a long hall, nicknamed Cheddar Hall, to see large vats and a finishing table where cheese is sliced. No hairnets are required — the view is through windows. Guests then visit the towers where cheese curds are pressed into solid form and the packaging area where products are sent down the assembly line and prepared for final shipment.

Throughout the tour, guests sample all Cabot specialty cheeses, mustards, jams, pretzels and more. The creamery’s store sells sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurts, cheddar powder (for popcorn) and, of course, 31 types of cheese. Some of Cabot’s popular cheddar flavors include smoky bacon, garlic and herb, habanero, chipotle and chili-lime.

“I think they enjoy the whole thing,” Laurie Callahan, senior manager of retail stores and tourism, says about tour guests. “If they’re coming to the plant in Cabot, they love cheese [and] we have the world’s best cheddar,” she says. Proof is in the many awards the creamery has received.

Where: 2878 Main St., Cabot, Vermont

When: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (changes seasonally)

How much: $2 for anyone 12 and older

Need to know: Reservations for large motorcoach tours are encouraged; call ahead to confirm cheese-making days, 800-837-4261

More info: cabotcheese.coop

Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzels

Hanover, Pennsylvania

Snyder’s of Hanover has been making crunchy, salty pretzels since 1909 when Harry V. Warehime, founder of Hanover Canning Company (Snyder’s parent company until 1980), began producing the legendary snack. Today, Synder’s is a top pretzel baker in the world, selling 10 million bags a week. A Snyder’s of Hanover tour, which has been offered for 24 years, gives guests a look at what it takes to make the famous Hanover pretzels and chips.

A factory guide leads guests on the hour-long tour through the mezzanine level, giving guests a bird’s-eye view of the factory. The tour begins overlooking the warehouse, where guests watch robots bag and box pretzels while hearing fun facts about the factory. For example, the factory uses more than 100 tons of pretzel salt per month, and 25,000 pounds of flour is delivered every day. Guests then head to the packaging room to see seven of the largest ovens in the world, measuring 150 feet long. The tour concludes in the potato-chip processing area where potatoes are washed and peeled and Synder’s tortilla chips are cooked. Guests receive a complimentary bag of mini pretzels at the conclusion of the tour.

Where: 1250 York St.,

Hanover, Pennsylvania

When: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

How much: Free

Need to know: Reservations required at least 24 hours in advance; 800-233-7125, Ext. 8592

More info: snydersofhanover.com

Sweet’s Candy

Salt Lake City, Utah

Family owned for five generations, Sweet’s Candy is the product of the Utah-based Sweet family, a fitting last name for the company that produces more than 200 types of candy and is a top maker of saltwater taffy.

Curtis Anderson, who runs the 5-year-old Sweet’s Candy tour, says guests get excited about the family ownership of the company as much as the candy itself. More than 30,000 people take the tour each year, getting an inside look at the candy-making process. They walk the floor of the factory, getting close enough to the sweets that they can smell them.

On the tour, groups see orange sticks (orange jelly covered in chocolate), cinnamon bears, taffy and all things chocolate. The tour takes a spin through the raw materials area, taffy kitchen (where guests see taffy being whipped and poured over giant cooling wheels), chocolate-melting room, jelly bean room, enrober (a chocolate waterfall) and three packaging areas, where 300 pieces of candy are packaged each minute. Guests get to try free samples of candy fresh off the line, and can purchase overstock sweets in the factory store at a slight discount.

Where: 3780 West Directors Row,

Salt Lake City, Utah

When: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

How much: Free

Need to know: As many as 100 people can take a tour at one time and appointments are required; 801-886-1444. Parking lot has designated spaces for buses.

More info: sweetcandy.com/factorytour

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream

Waterbury, Vermont

Cherry Garcia. Half Baked. Chubby Hubby. Ben and Jerry’s might be known as much for wacky ice cream names as it is for the ice cream itself. The factory tour in Waterbury takes guests through colorful halls with a mooing cow soundtrack in the background to the Cow Over the Moon Theater, which shows a short film about the company history and fun facts about the ice cream. Guests are then led to a mezzanine level to look out over the production floor where the approximately 60 different types of ice cream are made. Finally, guests head to the flavor room where they receive a generously-sized free sample of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream of the day.

After the tour, visitors can also taste current flavors at the Scoop Shop, see the cow pasture and stock up on souvenirs at the gift shop. One popular attraction is the flavor graveyard, where each retired ice cream flavor has a tombstone dedicated to the tasty legacy it left. The tour, which has been in operation since 1986, can accommodate 40 people and usually gets about 300,000 to 500,000 guests a year.

Where: 1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Waterbury, Vermont

When: Daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with some seasonal changes); ice cream is made Monday to Friday.

How much: $3 adults, $2 seniors, children free; packages that include coupons and a T-shirt are $21.

Need to know: Adults get in free if they check in on Foursquare before visiting. A large parking lot can hold several motorcoaches. Reservations for groups of 10 or more are highly encouraged.

More info: benjerry.com/scoop-shops/factory-tours

Tabasco pepper sauce

Avery Island, Louisiana

One drop of world-famous Tabasco Pepper Sauce can leave a person sweating with its combination of tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt. In Louisiana, everything is made with a little kick to it and Avery Island’s most famous product is no exception. The Tabasco Sauce factory is surrounded by the Cajun bayou and offers up-close tours of how the spicy condiment is made.

The tour begins in the lobby where guests can watch clips of commercials and TV programs that feature Tabasco products. They then head to an exhibit area where a guide explains the process of making the sauce from picking peppers to completion. Visitors then watch an eight-minute film on the history of the company and Avery Island, and move to the production room where they see the machinery that bottles the sauce. The tour ends in the interactive room. Here, guests can play games related to Tabasco and see one of the actual vats stirring the pepper sauce. Guests receive three miniature Tabasco bottles — original, green pepper and chipotle — upon completion of the tour.

Guests can visit the country store after the tour is over and buy all things Tabasco, including Tabasco-branded clothing, kitchenware, decorations, cookbooks, golf bags and Cajun food such as crawfish etouffee. Free samples of unusual Tabasco-infused products like spicy Tabasco Coca-Cola and Tabasco ice cream are also available.

Where: Avery Island, Louisiana

When: Daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; tours run every 15 to 20 minutes.

How much: Free; $1 to enter island

Need to know: Tours can take up to 40 people at a time. The factory has a large parking lot that can fit a motorcoach.

More info: tabasco.com

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