A great man once said “Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions, chocolate understands”. Actually it might as well have been a woman for all we know since it’s one of those quotes that nobody has ever claimed. Ask most people how they feel about chocolate and you can almost watch the wave of euphoria creep across their face. Milton Hershey started churning out the chocolate gold at the end of the 19th century after selling his caramel factory and creating a method to make chocolate more efficiently by controlling the milk supply. He was quoted as saying “Caramel is a fad. Chocolate is a permanent thing.” He was right it seems, since his factory has been producing chocolate for over 100 years and shows no signs of slowing down. There’s a magical place that I imagine may have been the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s book, “Charlie and the Chocolate factory” and that is Hershey, Pennsylvania. It’s less than a 2 hour drive from Philly.
It’s probably the closest thing to the mystical Fountain of Youth, Shangri La, or El Dorado in modern day times. It’s self proclaimed as the Sweetest Place on Earth and it handles millions of visitors a year. There’s Hershey Park, an amusement park full of roller coasters and other rides as well as Hershey’s Chocolate World, a vistor’s center for curious choco-philes. I decided to visit Hershey and eat and drink as much chocolate as I could possibly stand.
When you first arrive in Hershey, you might feel like you’re on Main Street, Disneyland. The houses and streets seem A little too perfect for real life. It’s easy to be reminded of where you are once you notice the streetlights all have giant Hershey’s kisses plopped on top.
The big draw is Chocolate World where anyone can walk into the nucleus of everything chocolate and be awed by the endless shelves of sugar coated delights. Admission is free but no one leaves without a lighter wallet once they’ve strolled through a few aisles of sweetness. There’s shoes, shirts, mugs, and stuffed kiss dolls sandwiched between the rows. This might be a store, but it is a store that makes you feel happy and gives you some insight to all the products this company produces.
The chocolate tour is a Disney-esque automated ride that feels like a cross between “it’s a small world after all” and tue Ford Motor Company assembly line. There’s videos mixed with singing cows and the processs of creating chocolate is semi-explained as your little car careens in and out of various audio-visual rooms. Yeah, you feel slightly brainwashed at the end, but it’s free and you might learn something.
For a small fee, you can sign up for a chocolate tasting. You’re given a small bag with a few samples and seated in a dark classroom with your tasting guide who runs a few short films and shows you the proper way to enjoy chocolate. The best part of the “class” is trying the raw chocolate nibs and the Hershey’s Bliss, a very smooth rich bar. After you sample the candy, you’re asked to identify the flavors and enter them into the tablet on your desk. Whether this is a tricky way of getting free marketing testers or to Hershey wants to make you feel like you’re a chocolate sommelier is the big question. The tasting is designed for families so you won’t find any wine or beer pairings but you might start savoring future chocolate a little differently after you’ve been choc-ucated.
The most fun in chocolate world is the high tech attraction where you can design your own chocolate bar. For about $20, you are fitted with hair net and apron, then led to a computer that allows you to select up to three ingredients, choose between light and dark chocolate, and add optional multicolored sprinkles to create your own personal chocolate bar. It’s good fun watching your bar going through an automated assembly line like some kind of heavenly car wash with your name flashed upon the screen. But wait! There’s more! The next room allows you to design your wrapper without Photoshop experience. You select from a template, add your name, resize Hershey logos, change colors and print your wrapper. The factory worker at the end pieces it together and hands you your creation. How it looks and tastes is entirely your own fault.
After you’ve loaded up your basket with all the candy you can carry or afford, you might want to head over to The Hershey Hotel. Milton created the best resort in town and it’s lovely. You may not want to spend $400/night to stay there but you can always grab one of their 4 different flavors of chocolate martinis at the upscale bar. All made with… Yes, you guessed it! Hershey’s chocolate!