You may remember an early episode of “Seinfeld,” in which Kramer wanted to start a pizza place “where you make your own pie.”
Here in central PA, we may not have a restaurant (yet) where you can make your own pizza. But we can make our own candy bars in Hershey and our own ice cream and pretzels in Lancaster County.
Hershey has two opportunities for tourists and local chocoholics to create personalized candy bars. At $21.95 per person, the candy is much more expensive than wandering to the checkout line and tossing a Skor bar onto the conveyor belt as an afterthought.
But it’s not only the candy bar you’re paying for. The experience of designing the candy and the packaging gives the experience enough “wow” to justify creaking open your wallet.
Dubbed “The Authentic Factory Experience,” the process simulates an actual candy factory, complete with automation and sneeze guards. Each visitor is christened a worker and decked out in aprons, nametags and hairnets. You choose your chocolate and ingredients and then help work the controls to distribute those ingredients into a mold. While your candy cools, you set about the very important and potentially fame-inducing task of designing the packaging.
Though the actual experience lasts only 45 minutes, the pictures of your family holding up their enormous chocolate bar tins will last forever. It might be the only work you get your kids to do all weekend. Plus, the candy bar is huge and takes several sittings to finish (unless you’re me).
Less of a factory and more of a lab setting, you can also make your own candy bar at the Hershey Story downtown. The good folks at Hershey didn’t just replicate the industrial setting already available at Chocolate World. The Chocolate Lab is distinctive enough to stand on its own.
The lab is designed as a science classroom, complete with teachers wearing white lab coats. But it isn’t a dry lesson about the chemical composition of chocolate. The teachers ask questions to test their class’s knowledge of social studies and history, too. (Remember triangular trade?)
And in between those lessons and questions, everyone in the room gets to spoon chocolate into a mold. Just like in a real classroom full of kids, the teachers pause during each step of the lesson to make sure everyone is on the same step and no one is left behind.
There are only three ingredients available to add to your chocolate bar, all with historical significance. You will have to visit the Chocolate Lab to find out what they are. Your mold, still dewy with chilled chocolate, will be overflowing with a combination of those ingredients when you leave the lab.
To absorb the significance of the history behind the chocolate and the sugar cane plant in Cuba, visit the Hershey Story Museum conveniently located in the same building.
Turkey Hill Taste Lab also finds inspiration from a laboratory setting.
Unlike the peek-a-boo window at Hershey’s, Turkey Hill offers complete privacy in its closed-door lab. For 45 minutes, you will take a class the lab technicians describe as “Ice Cream 101.”
With your newfound knowledge, you will create your own ice cream flavor using an electronic menu board. It’s a higher-tech, up-scaled version of a frozen yogurt bar. You start with a vanilla ice cream base, then add as many as 10 different flavor extracts, swirl in accompanying variegates, then garnish with up to 20 different toppings. Next, you go into the lab to taste the flavor you designed.
If you also visit the interactive exhibits within the Turkey Hill Experience, you can immerse yourself in learning about the different steps in making ice cream. Each station is designed for all ages to have fun while learning. Some more cherries on top: design your own ice cream packaging, star in your very own Turkey Hill commercial, and taste unlimited ice cream samples.
The regular price for tickets to just the Taste Lab is $15.40. The “Triple Scoop,” which includes admission to both of these things plus Tea Discovery tea tasting, is well worth the price at $18. There are lower-priced deals available for seniors, kids and the military.
As far from the food lab concept as you can possibly get, there are two “twist-your-own” pretzel factories just south of Harrisburg: Intercourse Pretzel Factory in Intercourse and Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz.
With no special aprons or hairnets to wear, you don’t even have to wash your hands before you handle your raw pretzel. There’s no sanitary way to bake your creation, so you are limited to kneading your dough, learning to twist it into the traditional arms from heaven shape, and taking all the pictures you want.
The attendants will also watch you to ensure you don’t eat raw dough. And if someone happens to try, they will receive a scolding and be asked to spit it out. (Do not ask me how I know this.) I would like to think that only Kramer would be able to get away with a stunt like that.