Many of the rally attendees made the trek down to Avery Island although not all on the same days. The Mcllhenny family has made their famous Tabasco sauce here on the island for five generations. Built on a salt dome, the island is where the red peppers are grown, home to the factory with tours, a store, restaurant, and the Jungle Gardens. I visited once before but the tour through the factory is much improved. Unfortunately, they were not bottling when we visited. You start the tour with a visit to the museum.
You will find all kinds of information on how the whole story began, members of the family, the Tabasco itself, and the island itself.
Edmund Mcllhenny started the whole process in 1868 because the diet of the south at the time was pretty bland especially for Louisiana tastes. Mcllhenny was given seeds of Capsicum frutescens peppers that came from Mexico or Central America. An avid gardener, he sowed the seeds, nurtured the young plants, and was thrilled with their spicy flavor.
The first commercial pepper crop was grown in 1868 and, one year later, he sent 658 bottles of sauce at one dollar apiece wholesale to growers around the Gulf Coast, especially New Orleans. He gave it the name "Tabasco" name based upon a word of Mexican Indian origin which means "a place where the soil is humid" or "place of the coral or oyster shell". A patent was obtained in 1870 and by the end of the decade the sauce was sold throughout the U.S. and even in Europe. The sauce was packaged in a bottle similar to a perfume bottle with a spout on top as it was definitely meant to be sprinkled not poured on food.
Today the sauce is aged in barrels for up to three years and fine quality vinegar is used. It actually comes in 8 flavors. Tiny bottles were included in soldiers MRE packages.
Part of the tour took us through a greenhouse showing all different kinds of peppers.
When you get to the storage area, there is a film about the process as well as a view of all the barrels in storage. The Tabasco is aged just like fine liquor.
The pepper mixture is sealed into a barrel using a salt crust before the lid is put on.
The tour is a little out of order due to the arrangement of the processes.
The is part of the bottling area where vats of the peppers and vinegar are mixed.
This represents the salt mines right there on the island where the salt is obtained to store the sauce while it ages.
When you visit the restaurant, you will find every variety of Tabasco available to try on your food. The store also has lots of sampling opportunities including ice cream made with Tabasco.
We also took the Jungle Garden tour. Both tours of the factory as well as the gardens are self guided although the Gardens have a phone number that you call so you can be guided through the whole garden and given information on what you are seeing.
There are also signs along the way.
This is where you buy tickets for the Jungle Garden Tour but, if you are doing both the factory tour and the garden tour, buy your tickets together at the factory area as you will get a significant price break.
The Jungle Gardens are famous for their camilias and we were there while they were blooming.
I never realized there were so many different kinds and the smell was quite nice.
The oak trees on the grounds are amazing. In addition to the Spanish moss, they are also covered with ferns which I have never seen before.
All in all, it was a great day and well worth the drive down to the coast.