Sweet Escapes

2027809_WebChocolateFPO.jpgIf you are what you eat, then I’m sweet, nutty and rich. Well, two out of three isn’t bad.
I’ve had a love affair with chocolate for as long as I can remember. I’ve even tried
chocolate-dipped cheddar cheese (tasted great – looked terrible) and I’ve been known to
sprinkle chocolate chips on my morning cereal. A day just doesn’t go by that I don’t have a
little chocolate. After all, if it was good enough for gods and kings then it’s good enough
for me.

 

While RVing can show us the great sites of America such as the Grand Canyon or
watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, I know that it was originally invented to
visit chocolate factories and take their tours. The following is a list of my favorites.

 

When you think of Las Vegas, Nevada, it’s probably not chocolate that comes to mind, but in
the midst of its bright lights and glitz is a treasure. As a chocolate aficionado, Ethel’s
Chocolate Factory and Botanical Garden (formerly Ethel M Chocolates) produces some of the
most delectable chocolates I’ve ever tasted. Along with a tour of how the chocolates are
handmade, enjoy the chocolate lounge featuring incredible fondues and rich hot cocoa. Then
step outside and tour the botanical cactus garden alive with native cacti and succulents.
In November and December, the garden is strung with more than 400,000 lights. An unusual
combination, but one you won’t want to miss. Visit www.ethelschocolate.com or call (800)
471-0352.

 

Located in Berkeley, California, a visit to Scharffen Berger is a must. It is not
unusual to find other 2027809_WebTheo18.JPGfine chocolate makers comparing their products to Scharffen Berger.
Recently purchased by Hershey’s Corporation, its dark-chocolate specialties are for the
chocolate gourmand and are referred to as “edible gold.” After a video and detailed
explanations of how chocolate is processed from bean to treat, the tour takes you through
the factory where cacao beans are roasted, processed by hand, then transformed into
mouthwatering dark-chocolate delights. An interesting note; since cacao beans vary by
origin, size and shape, beans have to be hand tasted during the roasting process to
determine exact doneness (talk about a dream job). Organic chocolate is also available.
Visit www.artisanconfection.com or call (800) 930-4528.

 

While waiting out the rain in
Seattle, Washington, drop by Theo Chocolate. This chocolate factory only roasts organic
cocoa beans, and it’s the first roaster of Fair Trade Certified beans in the United States.
Appease your sweet tooth and your conscience at the same time. By the time you finish this
tour, you’ll not only have tasted your weight in chocolate – they are quite generous with
the samples – but you’ll feel like an expert on everything chocolate. Theo Chocolate is one
of only 14 chocolate manufacturers in the United States that actually makes its candy from
cocoa beans. The others are referred to as chocolate “melters” and bring in their chocolate
already processed. On the tour, you can see the chocolate makers shell the cocoa beans (the
shells make a great mulch) and then ground them into paste. Organic cane and beet sugar is
added, then the chocolate is stored in temperature-controlled tanks, 6,000 pounds at a
time, until it is made into fine candies. Experience the unique “cherry” flavor of
chocolate from Madagascar, the crunch of a candy bar made from toasted French bread or
unusual flavors such as coconut-curry and cardamom-caramel. Check out www.theochocolate.com
or call (206) 632-5100.

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One of the best things about visiting the South Bend Chocolate
Company is that you can combine your two favorite activities – RVing and chocolate – in one
trip. Located in South Bend, Indiana, just minutes away from Elkhart (which is often
considered the RV capital of the world), this tour is a must. A free general tour covers
the basics, but I’d spring for the $4 History of Chocolate Tour, which includes making your
own chocolate-dipped spoon, a goody bag, a 10 percent discount in the factory store and,
best of all, a walk through the Chocolate Museum. This unique museum contains vintage
chocolate posters, a 1,600-year-old chocolate pot, rare chocolate molds and more. Visit
www.sbchocolate.com or call (800) 301-4961.

 

Of course, no chocoholic would be whole without
a pilgrimage to Pennsylvania. Hershey, Pennsylvania, is home to perhaps the most famous
chocolate factory tour of all time, as well as the largest in North America – Hershey’s
Chocolate World. Complete with its own amusement park, water park and RV park, the tour has
morphed over the years into quite an extravaganza, including a 3D show, singing cows and a
ride through a simulated chocolate factory. Enjoy their cafes, bake shop and gift shop at
the end. Alas, you are not able to tour the actual factory. For chocolate trivia buffs,
2007 marked the 100th anniversary of Hershey’s Kisses. Visit www.hersheyschocolateworld.com
or call (717) 534-4900.

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While you’re in the neighborhood, you should drop by Wolfgang Candy
in York, Pennsylvania. Far more quaint and quieter than the corporate-owned Hershey,
Wolfgang’s is one of the oldest family-owned and managed candy companies in the United
States. A visitor center and museum features vintage advertisements and illustrations,
antique wooden sugar molds, candy jars and more. On the tour, watch as a variety of candies
are enrobed in milk, dark and even white chocolate. Along with a candy store, seat yourself
at the turn-of-the-century soda fountain and order up a delicious treat. Visit
www.wolfgangcandy.com or call (800) 248-4273.

 

Long Grove Confectionary in Buffalo Grove,
Illinois, is another treat to visit. Along with delectable chocolates, enjoy its collection
of antique stained-glass windows throughout as well as the huge antique stained-glass dome
in the reception area. Indulge your inner artist with the chocolate art collection, which
includes a 9-foot tall chocolate Statue of Liberty and nine Monets made out of chocolate,
weighing in at 1 ton each. An extra plus is combining the chocolate-factory tour with other
tours in the area, such as the Garden Tour or a visit to Ragdale, the nearby artist
community. Visit www.longgrove.com or call (888) 459-3100.

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Finding a chocolate factory near
you is as easy as entering “Chocolate Factory Tours” and your city and state into a search
engine on the Internet. A few Web sites also list tours as well as give a little
information about them. The gourmet food site www.thenibble.com and the candy enthusiasts’
site www.candy.about.com should get you started. If you don’t have a computer, consider
dropping by hotels as you drive through towns and look through the tourist racks for
brochures or consult a copy of Watch It Made in the U.S.A., by Karen Axelrod & Bruce
Brumberg. This definitive guide to factory tours around the United States contains many
chocolate and candy factories.

 

Remember that these are working factories and restrictions
and rules accompany the tours. You may be asked to wear a hair net or ear plugs as well as
proper walking shoes – no open-toed or sandals. In other cases, you will be viewing the
process behind glass. Some charge admission, and others are free – although all of them
include free samples. Most tours are Monday-Friday. For tours that are open on the weekend,
be sure to check whether any candy making will be going on. Not all are open year round. In
all cases, call ahead to verify tour times and for reservations.

 

Whether it’s Valentines
Day, Columbus Day or Thursday, indulge yourself and celebrate it with chocolate.

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