Day Off: Tabasco Factory and Baton Rouge

August 7, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

I was nervous about my first day off, especially here in Lake Charles, because popular opinion is that there’s nothing to do except to go to the casino. But, turns out I had a great day. I jumped out of bed and called Tabasco early in the morning, and Hooray, they are open! I plugged Avery Island (when you look a the bottles, you’ll notice that the red diamond says “Avery Island, LA”) to the GPS and was on my way. It took a little over an hour to get there, and It costs $1 to gain access to Avery Island.  Here’s the factory from the outside:

I took the Factory tour and learned a few things about this spicy sauce. First, every bottle of Tabasco is bottled here. Some (I think the majority) of the peppers are grown in South America (where it’s hot and humid all year round) and ground up there, but the bottling happens here. Tabasco is shipped all around the world to over 100 countries and is packaged an a bunch (20 something) different languages. Here is a view of the factory from the insides:

Since it was Sunday, the machinery was not running, oh well.

After the peppers are ground up, they are salted a little (with salt from the marshes/mines under Avery Island) and then put into barrels where they age for 3 years! Tabasco buys used barrels from Jack Daniels because they can only use the barrels once. During the aging process, the barrels are covered with a layer of Avery island salt, and then the pepper stuff inside ferments and produces bubbles and a cool effect on the salt on the top of the barrel (there was a cool short movie, about it). After the peppers have aged, they are mixed with (only the finest) vinegar for a few days and then bottled! Here I am in the Tabasco Country store:

There wasn’t really a good opportunity to have someone take my picture on the tour, and it had started to rain outside! Another interesting thing I learned on the tour was that they only use peppers of a certain color/ripeness for the sauce. They give the workers little red sticks (baton rouges!! wahhh!) to compare the color of the stick to the peppers they should pick.

The country store was a cool part of the tour because there were free samples of all sorts. There was Tabasco special recipe Chili (amazing), the whole fleet of sauces, with pretzels (they have a sweet and spicy sauce which is the mildest, and that was great, all the way up to the hottest, the habanero version, which made my mouth hurt for many minutes. They also had Tabasco Ice cream which was terrible. Awful. I’ve never thrown away ice cream before…

After the Tabasco venture, it was only about 1:50 p.m., way to early to go back to Lake Charles, so I headed to Baton Rouge, about an hour and a half away from Avery Island. On the way to Baton Rouge there’s a basin and a bridge that goes over it for something like 18 miles. I thought that was notable and cool to drive over.

I got to Baton Rouge and it looked pretty dead. I drove around for a while just checking things out, but I was extremely hungry for lunch. I got discouraged because It looked like all the restaurants were closed. I decided to park on the street in the Downtown are and walk around a little bit, and just as I parked I confirmed with a passing pedestrian that parking was free (you never know…). Apparently you don’t have to feed the meters all weekend (wish I could take that concept back to Boston). I also asked him where I should eat. “What do you like to eat?” “Whatever is most delicious.” He said if I don’t mind driving ten minutes I should go to Chimes, it’s on the LSU campus. (Cool!!).

Here’s the outside of Chimes, it was a really muggy day:

That’s my PT cruiser rental in the foreground. Chimes turned out to be Awesome. www.thechimes.com .  It seems like this place is a hot spot for LSU students. It has a ton of beers from around the world, and great foods. I had a beer drink called the “Red Hoe” which is framboise (that raspberry lambic) and Hoegaarden mixed together. One of the good things about being alone is that you don’t get made fun of (at least to your face) for ordering drinks like that.

I asked the server what was “Étouffée” and she laughed and brought me a little sample in a condiment cup. It was thick and almost made me full although it was just a few tablespoons. It was amazing but since I had already tried it, I wanted to sample something else of the menu. I asked the server what was a “poboy” and again she laughed at me.  (Come on, didn’t you see my ID?)

For some reason I was under the impression a Poboy was like a corn dog, but it’s just a awesome sandwich on french bread. (I think i got this mixed up with a Hushpuppie, which I’ve not tried) I got the shrimp Poboy because the server said that was her favorite. Of course, like all the food here, it was unbelievable.

After a great experience, I drove the two hours back to Lake Charles, relaxed, then went out for a light(er) dinner back at Steamboat Bills because it was the only place i could find that was not burger king, not fussy, and still open (a veteran, I ordered much smarter this time). Then I chatted it up with the lady at the front desk (a biochem major at McNeese U) and here I am now.

It was an awesome day off!

Love, anne

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