Touring Broken Wagon Bison Ranch

Touring Broken Wagon Bison Ranch

The bison has been named the national mammal of the United States. It’s fitting, since it is estimated that 30 to 60 million bison lived in North America in the 1500s before huge slaughters took place as settlers moved westward. The bison was near extinction, down to about 300 head nationally before a handful of ranchers captured orphaned calves and began raising them. Today the population has grown, with bison found in national and state parks, as well as several private herds being raised for food. I toured the Broken Wagon Bison Ranch in Hobart, Indiana, where I learned more about bison and had a chance to meet the herd up close and personal. Read more

13 Fascinating Facts about Michigan City and the Old Lighthouse

13 Fascinating Facts about Michigan City and the Old Lighthouse

Whenever we stumble across a lighthouse, I have to take a photo. There’s something romantic about lighthouses, perhaps the beacon of light welcoming sailors into a harbor or warning them of hazards. Maybe it’s the romanticizing of the keeper’s job, as backbreaking as it was. Or maybe it’s just that the splash of color—often red—against the blue of the sky and water makes a great scenic photo. Having taken the photo of the beacon that stands at the end of a pier in Michigan City, Indiana, we were surprised to find the light keeper’s house, the original Michigan City lighthouse. Refurbished, it’s now a museum run by the Michigan City Historical Society. We visited the museum earlier this year and came away with several fascinating facts about the lighthouse and the city during our self-guided tour. Here are 13 of them: Read more

Tour the South Bend Chocolate Company Factory

Tour the South Bend Chocolate Company Factory

Dark chocolate is my downfall. One whiff of the decadent confection, and I sniff and follow the aroma waves like in a cartoon until I find the source. Dark chocolate covered nuts, dark chocolate covered dried cherries, bittersweet chocolate mousse, chocolate fudge cake with fudge frosting—you name it, when I smell it or see it, I cave. Forget the diet right now; I’ll eat salads for the rest of the week. So when I had an opportunity to tour Indiana’s South Bend Chocolate Company factory, of course I didn’t turn it down.

Before taking us into the production area, our tour guide, Chris, nicknamed Captain Crunch, gave us a lesson on where chocolate comes from. It starts with cocoa pods, which are harvested twice a year.

Tour guide Chris with cocoa podYou have to crack the pod to get to the bean inside. There is only one bean per pod. Inside the bean are 20 to 60 cacao nibs, and that’s what’s used to make chocolate.

Chicago’s Blommer Chocolate Company, North America’s largest cocoa processor and ingredient supplier, turns the cacao nibs into giant, thick chocolate bars, which is what South Bend Chocolate Company starts with in making their candy.

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In the factory I was expecting to see the candy speeding past on conveyor belts like on the old I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs in a candy factory.

Lucy photo opIt turns out that production slows down on Saturdays, but the tradeoff to not seeing production in action is more samples. So although we saw the conveyor belts, they were at a standstill with no candy on them. Captain Crunch assured us that the belts don’t move quite as quickly as it did for Lucy and Ethel anyway.

Conveyor beltWe did see the chocolate enrober that looks like a waterfall, where the candies are coated, as well as the chocolate melter that holds 500 pounds of chocolate.

Chocolate enroberWe also saw two varieties of candy waiting for the next process step: fudge and pecan patties (like Turtles).

FudgePecan PattiesAfter touring the production area, we were allowed to choose two chocolate samples.

That was the end of the free basic tour. However, we were on the Inside Scoop Tour (fee is $4), so we got an added bonus. We dipped a spoon into chocolate that could be used then to stir a hot beverage.

Dipping the spoonWhile we were waiting for our spoons to cool and harden, we watched an educational but humorous film about chocolate making.

FilmFollowing the tour, we wandered through the small chocolate museum that includes information about the history of candy, as well nostalgic displays of candy packaging, including Mounds, one of my favorites.

MoundsI was surprised to see a display of Frango Mints boxes, the candy that at one time was made in Chicago’s flagship Marshall Field’s store. (The store is now Macy’s, and Macy’s carries Frango Mints under the Marshall Field name.)

Frago MintsOne last stop before leaving: the outlet store, where I stocked up my own stash of chocolate, all dark.

Tour are offered at the South Bend Chocolate Company factory, located at 3300 West Sample Street in South Bend, Indiana, Monday through Saturday. The free basic tour runs 20 minutes; the Inside Scoop Tour is 45 minutes. Check the web site for tour and outlet store hours.

Disclosure: My tour of the South Bend Chocolate Company factory was hosted by Visit South Bend and the South Bend Chocolate Company, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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