Pretzels, potato chips and cheese curls! Oh my!

Herr's Snack Foods Visitor's Center is only open on weekdays — and closes early on Friday/

Herr’s Snack Foods Visitor’s Center is only open on weekdays — and closes early on Fridays.

Hot now. Potato chips fresh from the fryer.

Hot now. Potato chips fresh from the fryer.

When you’re handed a pile of hot, salty potato chips, you remember it. That’s how the tour at Herr’s Foods ends. I’d never had a fresh potato chip straight from the factory fryer. And, oh my! If I didn’t love potato chips before, I did at that moment.

Herr’s Foods, in southern Pennsylvania, offers visitors a look at the manufacturing of potato chips, pretzels and  tortilla chips through glass windows overlooking the factory. The tour passes through the bagging area, an enormous warehouse and the quality assurance stations.

Potato chips fresh from the fryer. Herr's original potato chips remain their best seller.

Potato chips fresh from the fryer. Herr’s original potato chips remain their best seller.

Since their products are only made during the week — often with just two shifts on Friday — tours are limited to weekdays with the last Friday tour usually in the morning. Reservations are required though the tour is free. We were slightly  late — we got stuck in Amish buggy traffic (really!) — but since the tour starts with a 10-minute film detailing Herr’s history,

Reservations are required for the tours, which last about an hour.

Reservations are required for the tours, which last about an hour.

they directed us to the movie theatre and we didn’t miss a bit of the actual tour. We did wonder if on a crowded day they would have been able to accommodate our tardiness.

The scent of frying carbs hits you as the tour begins.  I’ve seen plenty of these factories in the comfort of my own family room, thanks to the Food Network. But a visit, with all the aromas, the sounds and the vast quantities of snack foods, was well worth the drive.

Herr's pretzels are not twisted. They are formed.

Herr’s pretzels are not twisted. They are formed.

Where else can you see piles of tortilla chips tumbling into bins bigger than a bathtub — bigger than a hot tub — or mounds of starch (I wish I could have taken that picture!) that will be sent to a paper company? Or how about a rope of pretzel dough longer than a football field (my guess, anyway) before it’s cut into nuggets?

I watched rolls of this plastic packaging transformed into bags of tortilla chips.

I watched rolls of this plastic packaging transformed into bags of tortilla chips.

We saw a portion of 500,000 pounds of potatoes tumbled down a chute into the fryer. All those potatoes will be chips in 48 hours. In three days they’ll have left the warehouse for stores around the East Coast.

I was happy to have a window between us and the factory floor once someone opened the factory door — IT WAS VERY LOUD. Inside, machinery — monitored by lots of people — keeps on turning out new rows of pretzels and piles of chips, pouring them into bags and counting them into cartons before they go to the warehouse.

Snack food heaven: the gift shop at Herr's.

Snack food heaven: the gift shop at Herr’s. You check in for the factory tour here too.

As the tour ends, everybody gets a sample of two Herr’s products. If that isn’t enough, there’s a store filled with snack foods, t-shirts and knick-knacks.

Last week, I wrote about my visit to Wilbur Chocolate Company in Lititz, the first part of a chocolate pretzel tour. I’m not sure I would recommend doing what we did, visit both on the same day — but it was fun. My family and I enjoyed visits to the two companies and brought home lots of souvenirs.

Our route left the highways behind. We drove past Dutch Wonderland, a little kids’ amusement park, Sight and Sound Theatre, known for their religious-themed productions, and very close to the Strasburg Rail Road, a historic railroad that’s fun for families. Along the way, we passed plenty of farms, got stuck behind a few horse drawn buggies and wagons and saw a few farmers getting ready for spring.

Next time I go to Wilbur, I’m planning to spend the whole day in Lititz. And when Herr’s is on the agenda, I think I’ll combine it with a visit to Kennett Square and Longwood Gardens, only a half-hour away.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman
Potato chip and pretzel factory photos courtesy of Herr’s Foods

Advertisements