5 Favorite Food Factory Tours

Tabasco Bottling Line by Sara BonisteelTabasco Bottling Line by Sara BonisteelBy Sara Bonisteel, Epicurious.com

Taking a factory tour is akin to the religious pilgrimage of old. Devotees get to visit the birthplace of their favorite condiment, beverage, snack, or staple, and companies capitalize on the fervor with gift shops fully stocked with logoed gear that will travel far and wide as free advertising for the plant. And how-stuff-works people get to see how stuff works.

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Like any good pilgrim, it takes a lifetime of visits to amass the tokens of devotion: pickle pins, chip clips, and fuzzy critters. My lifelong factory-tour journey is far from over, but here are my five favorites thus far.

Herr's Snack Factory
Located in Nottingham, Pennsylvania, Herr's Snack Factory churns out potato chips, cheese curls, tortilla chips, popcorn, and pretzels. A good factory tour has to have a mascot, and Herr's boasts Chipper, a chipmunk that provides levity to the visit. Production lines run Monday through Thursday, so Friday visitors may miss out on actual production, but you'll still learn that they feed the snack scraps to a herd of beef cattle owned by the Herr family.

Miller Brewing Company
Milwaukee is a company town, and that company is Miller. You'll learn through a three-screen slide-projector program that anytime you want to kick back and enjoy yourself, it's Miller Time. Tours end at a bar, so if you're on the first morning tour, you'll get a sample of beer before noon. Just remember the lessons learned during the Duff-worthy film that kicked off the brewery visit.

Tabasco Factory
The journey to Avery Island, Louisiana, alone proves your devotion to this hot sauce. Tabasco is located on a salt dome near the Gulf Coast in southern Louisiana, about 30 minutes drive from Lafayette. They grow the chile seed on Avery Island, and age the Tabasco peppers there in repurposed bourbon barrels for three years before the chile mash is melded with vinegar to make the sauce. The gift shop is set up like a country store, offering samples of official Tabasco products, plus some test ones--ice cream and soda. A nature preserve is also on the island, where you can catch a glimpse of alligators, great egrets, and a giant Buddha.

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Maker's Mark Distillery
Nestled in the rolling hills of Kentucky, this bourbon factory boasts the nation's first package liquor store, an interactive "Heritage Center" that uses talking portraits of distillery's founders to tell the Maker's Mark story, and a gift-shop station that lets visitors dip their own bottle of bourbon in the distinctive red-wax seal.

Chelsea Milling Company

At the Chelsea Milling Company, they've been doing things in a "JIFFY" since 1930. All the "JIFFY" Mix in the world is made at this plant in Chelsea, Michigan. I first toured this plant at age 7 with my first-grade class, and it remains my favorite (I've been back twice as an adult). Visitors can sample treats from the test kitchen, pick out a box of "JIFFY" to take home (there's more than just the corn bread), and walk the production line. Plus, everyone gets a blue "JIFFY" guy, a little sticky pompom with googly eyes. Mine found a home on the dashboard of my Mom's old Honda Civic.

What's your favorite factory tour?

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