Few names are more synonymous with chocolatey goodness than Hershey. The town that bills itself as “The Sweetest Place on Earth” is home to Hershey’s Chocolate World, where a free 30-minute tour will let you see, feel, hear and smell the process that turns cocoa beans into your favorite candy bars. The Create Your Own Candy Bar tour ($21.95 per person) allows you to choose the ingredients and design your own wrapper to make a personalized bar.
Once a company town, the community of Hershey now boasts attractions including an amusement park, an automobile museum, gardens and a zoo. Take an old-fashioned trolley tour ($15.95 for adults 13+) and learn more about this “town built on chocolate” and its late founder, Milton Hershey. Samples, such as Hershey’s iconic kisses (introduced in 1907), are included.
Photo credit: Mast Brothers
The brothers Mast—Rick and Michael—have elevated chocolate making and package design to an art form, as evidenced by their sleek, modern Brooklyn flagship store and factory and beautifully wrapped chocolates. Organic ingredients are used to create gourmet flavors such as Olive Oil, Smoke, Maple and Sea Salt. The company even makes milk chocolates using goat milk and sheep milk.
Mast Brothers Chocolate is open daily and offers free samples and hourly public tours. The Masts founded the company in 2007, and 8 years later were lauded in the February 2015 issue of Vanity Fair for their delicious chocolates and lavish packaging, which the article says “makes having a Mast Brothers Chocolate bar not unlike unwrapping a gift.”
Photo credit: Lake Champlain Chocolates
More than 30 years ago, Jim Lampman bought boxes of chocolates as holiday gifts for his staff at the Ice House Restaurant in Burlington. One Christmas, the pastry chef told his boss the chocolates weren’t very good, and Lampman dared him to do better. The pastry chef did, and within a year, Lampman had sold the restaurant and started Lake Champlain Chocolates.
On weekdays, free nose-against-the-window factory tours take place on an observation platform overlooking the production floor. On weekends—when the factory isn’t making chocolates—you can still enjoy chocolate tastings. Or sign up for a chocolate-making class at the company’s South End Kitchen cafe.
Photo credit: Molly DeCoudreaux
Located in San Francisco’s Mission district, Dandelion Chocolate is an artisan chocolate factory that makes its products with just two ingredients: cocoa beans and organic cane sugar. Company reps visit cacao farms in countries such as Belize, Madagascar and Ecuador to source the beans for Dandelion’s small-batch chocolates. Factory tours ($5) show how the beans are roasted, winnowed, ground with sugar and formed into bars. Photo credit: Molly DeCoudreaux
Delve deeper into the chocolate-making process in a small-group session. A 2-hour “Chocolate 101” class ($50) teaches you about different types of chocolate and the company’s methods. Step up to the 4-hour “Chocolate 201” class ($150) to make your own small batch of chocolate and cocoa nibs.
Theo Chocolate pioneered the concept of organic, fair trade coffee in the United States, and it’s one of only a few manufacturers to import its own beans and make its chocolate from scratch. The factory, founded in 2006, is located in a former brewery in the counterculture mecca of Fremont, just north of downtown Seattle, where tours ($10 per person) tell the story of chocolate-making from fruit to bar.
You’ll have plenty of chances to taste chocolate during Theo tours, and even more when your tour ends in the tasting showroom. Almost every variety of bar for sale here sits beside a box of bite-sized samples, so you can try classic flavors and more fanciful varieties such as Chai Tea, Coconut Curry and Bread & Chocolate.
Decadence and Las Vegas are no strangers, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to find a handmade-chocolate factory nearby. In 1981, Forrest Mars Sr. founded Ethel M. Chocolates, named for his mother and using her recipes. The Mars family creates small-batch premium chocolates with no preservatives, grinding their own nuts and making their own caramel.
Visitors to the factory in Henderson can watch candy-making from a viewing aisle and taste samples. Ethel M. offers more than 30 varieties of chocolates in flavors such as Pumpkin Pie White Chocolate and PB&J Milk Chocolate.