No trip to South Louisiana is complete without a tour of the TABASCO factory! My daughters, grandchildren and I had a fabulous time during our recent tour.
I was amazed at the changes in the factory since my last visit, a decade or so ago. Gone was the rickety look of the old Country Store, and in was a new modern set of brick facilities, landscaped and modern. I could not believe how much it had grown.
The business is still in the original spot on Avery Island, but the tour is now so much more than walking through the processing plant of years past.
There is an interactive museum now, complete with entry fees and arm bands, videos, and visuals of every sort where you can learn more about the McIlhenny family, the TABASCO peppers, farming, and how the making TABASCO sauce has changed over the years.
Everything is immaculate. The grounds are gorgeous, and it was truly all exciting to see and learn. As a Louisiana native, I am so proud of how this small local, family owned business has grown into an international enterprise.
I was a little worried at first, whether the kids were just dragging along to appease me, or whether they would enjoy the tour. It did not take long to see that a fin day was about to be enjoyed by all!
You can hear the Cajun music over the outside speakers, as soon as you get out of your car, and I don’t know if it is a Louisiana thing, or whether it is as festive to everyone, but the jovial mood was sure set for us.
We entered the (newish) old country store first, and it was packed to the gills with merchandise and tourists. The Cajun music had everyone smiling and bobbing to the tunes as they taste tested the sauces, jams and crackers. Every size and flavor of TABASCO anything was front and center. T-shirts, hats and the like filled the racks and shelves. It does not feel like a modern retail store, it really still has the essence of an old country store.
We moved along fairly quickly to the next building, the interactive museum and chose the self-guided tour package for $5.50 each. We did not do the Jungle Gardens Tour, though we will next time.
The children (12, 9, and 2) enjoyed it as much as the adults. Everything was bright and colorful, and there were videos explaining the history.
After spending about 30 minutes in the museum building, we headed toward the factory, which is now a large 3 brick building complex. There are directional signs that let you know what to expect in each building. There is a nice sidewalk walking path that runs in front of the entire area, with exit paths at each entrance.
We decided to walk to the last building first, then make our way back to the beginning. (I am weird like that…) Gone are the days of the building full of oak barrels stacked ceiling high on metal shelving. That old warehouse was replaced by a state-of-the-art fermentation laboratory. We were able to climb to the highest elevation in the building and look down over the HUGE vats of fermenting peppers, undoubtedly in varying states of doneness. I could not even begin to estimate how many gallons each one of these things hold, I will be absolutely lieing if I say anything…and I am sure it says how many somewhere, probably in giant letters on the wall behind me…but here I go….5,000? 50,000? 500,000 gallons? I have no idea, but I hope from the sheer size of those numbers you can visualize how big these vats are. Stories tall. Stories.
Can you imagine how many peppers that takes? How many acres of pepper plants? How many seeds planted? They HAVE to truck the vinegar in in tanker trucks, there is just no other way. I am imagining that the tons of weight these things must present to the soggy Louisiana ground below must be mind blowing. Now I am wondering. Do you think they store that vinegar underground in tanks like gasoline at the gas station? I should have paid more attention to the signs. There had to have been a pretty smart engineer to figure all of this stuff out. The contractor’s wife in me is dying to know how many yards of concrete, and the thickness of it that are holding these things up. Lot’s of jobs in building this place, that’s for sure.
They still had a couple of the old barrels sitting here and there, for historical significance, but they were not full of mash for you to take a whiff, as they had been decades before. I’m guessing some dummy stuck their finger in it and blamed them because it burned…ruining that “OMG my nose hairs just got burned off and my sinuses will be clear for a month” that I experienced from getting within a couple of feet of the display on my last visit. Nope. Some doofus ruined that for all of us, lol.
The next building housed an experience that was new-to-me, as well. It had a “cave” area that displayed salt miners, bulk salt, salt carts, and demonstrated the salt mining process that is done in Louisiana, by the way, to provide the salt for the curing process of the peppers. It was pretty cool. Then we entered an open area with huge TABASCO bottles and other awesome bits for photo ops for the visitors. The room was so “happy” and colorful, we really enjoyed the displays.
As we moved on to the actual bottling factory tour, it was not much different than my last visit, with the exception of the size of the bottling facility, and the number of lines running at the same time. It really reminds you of an old episode of Laverne and Shirley in the beer bottling plant, or I Love Lucy and the chocolate conveyor belt, if you are old enough to remember those. The good old days.
There are white boards on each of the lines, and huge boards in the back of the factory, and everything is visible through windows that stretch the length of the hallway, as you make your way down the line. Each line is marked with which sauce is being bottled, and the bigger signs indicate which country or region the day’s supply will go to. It really is awesome, to someone who has never seen an assembly line or factory of any sort, to see everything up close like that. The employees look so happy, they will wave at you as they work. (Reminds me of that lady who does the O’s cookie cereal commercials) You can see quality control workers inspecting every bottle before it is cased, and moving them aside if a label is crooked or something. (I wonder what they do with those? Relabel? Sell at a discount?) There is an electronic sign that tells you how many bottles have gone through, too, it was over 200,000 when we were there before lunchtime!
After the bottling area tour, we made our way back to the Old Country Store, and took our time looking, sampling, and buying. They even gave us tiny bottles as souvenirs. (These are actually in military MRE’s (meals ready to eat), how cool is that!)
All-in-all, it was a great family field trip, and I would love to go back again and see the greenhouse, and visit the gardens. If you are going to be traveling through South Louisiana, make sure and give the TABASCO plant on Avery Island a visit!
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my post about our visit to the children’s museum in Lake Charles, LA.