Four Great Food-Factory Tours

If you've ever wanted to see how your favorite ice creams or chocolates are made, read on.

Not all food brands welcome hungry guests, but there are some that allow visits to the factories or plants. We came up with a list of four particularly drool-inducing spots.

Harry and David -- Medford, Ore.

The company that made mail-order pears famous was founded in the heart of Oregon wine country in 1886. Today, H&D also turns our creamy chocolate truffles, cheesecakes, cakes, different fresh fruits and an addictive Moose Munch popcorn covered in chocolate and toffee.

Tourists can explore this massive campus courtesy of a guided tour, which goes by the 200 acres of fruit orchards where you can see plump pears and peaches hanging from the trees.

Indoors, you get to watch the fruit being sorted and boxed, walk through the candy kitchen to see the truffles in flavors such as dark chocolate being hand rolled and tour the aromatic bakery where the cheesecakes and cakes are also mixed and baked by hand.

Thankfully, every tour ends with a generous sampling of the goods, including cookies, chocolates and fruits.

Tours are $5 and run Monday through Friday, with four tours per day, starting at 9:15 a.m. It's advisable to book in advance. Visit the Web site for more information.

Scharffen Berger -- Berkeley, Calif.

Chocophiles, this one's for you.

The first part of the tour, in Scharffen Berger's brick headquarters building, includes a presentation on the history of cacao and teaches visitors how and where cacao beans are grown and processed.

Then it's on to a history of Scharffen Berger itself and a tasting of its chocolates such as the 41% milk almond bar with sea-salted almonds and the 82% cacao extra dark bar. The second part of your visit is a walk through the factory where the chocolate is actually made. Be sure to wear closed toe shoes for safety reasons, and go on a weekday if you want to see the machines operating.

End your trip with a stop at Café Cacao, a restaurant located in the factory, to indulge in sweets such as chocolate-layered cake filled with whipped chocolate ganache and topped with a bittersweet chocolate glaze.

Public tours are free and run every day from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and must be reserved ahead of time. Private tours can be arranged ahead of time for $35 a person. Visit the Web site for more information.

Ben and Jerry's -- Waterbury, Vt.

The guided tour at Ben & Jerry's begins with a movie. You'll learn how two childhood friends, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, took a $5 course on making ice cream and turned it into one of the country's most famous names.

Continue on with a walk through the factory's mezzanine level where you'll watch flavors such as Phish Food, Chunky Monkey, Chocolate Heath Bar Crunch and Cherry Garcia being made with fresh cream, sugar, eggs, chocolate and other tasty ingredients. The guide thoroughly explains the steps of ice-cream making and packaging.

There's a sweet ending here: Every tour concludes with a visit to the FlavoRoom, where guests get generous samples of more than 30 flavors.

Tours are $3 and run every half-hour starting at 10 a.m. They run 362 days a year; the factory is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's.

Ice cream is made only on weekdays, so if you want to see the actual manufacturing, be sure to visit Monday through Friday. Visit the Web site for more information.

Cabot Cheese -- Cabot, Vt.

The factory for this nearly century-old cheese company, known for its sharp cheddar, is situated in an area in the center of Vermont that's refreshingly devoid of Starbucks and McDonald's.

The tour of the 8,000-foot plant starts with a video detailing the Cabot history. Then, guests are taken right to the midst of the factory where the cheese is actually made.

See the cheese makers breaking up the curds and working with the whey with their bare hands in vats, and watch them add ingredients like Habanero peppers, tomatoes and basil to create flavors such as Sundried Tomato Basil Cheddar, Hot Habanero and Chipotle Cheddar. You'll also see how the goopy mixture is vacuumed into blocks.

The employees milling around are happy to answer any questions, and every trip ends with a tasting.

Tours are $2 and are run continuously throughout the day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call ahead, 800-837-4261, to make sure you visit on a day when the cheese is being made. Visit the Web site for more information.

Shivani Vora is a New York City-based writer who writes for over a dozen publications on lifestyle trends, travel, food, health, culture and business.

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