In February, my girlfriend and I had a grand ole time road tripping across the Deep South. The definite highlight of our time was in Louisiana, where we enjoyed a range of Dixie delights in dynamic New Orleans as well as the down home hospitality of the Cajun country.
One of the coolest things we did during our trip was pay a visit to Avery Island, the home of Louisiana's most iconic brand, McIlhenny Company's Tabasco Sauce. Months later and settled back at home in London, that fun experience still stays fresh on my mind. Indeed, just this morning I reached for my bottle of Tabasco to liven up my breakfast and the memories of the awesome time I had on Avery Island rushed to the forefront of my thoughts.
For all its flavoursome punch, it's comprised of only three natural ingredients: aged red peppers, vinegar and salt from Avery Island, which is where all Tabasco production takes place. In addition to the pepper sauce factory, the island (roughly two hours drive from New Orleans or 40 minutes from Lafayette) is also a botanical garden, bird sanctuary and wildlife refuge. Here are some tips from our visit there to help you spice up your Louisiana itinerary.
Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory Tour
I'm a huge fan of Tabasco, and hardly a day's gone by in my adult life without a bottle of the hot sauce gracing my kitchen cupboards. So I was excited about my visit to Avery Island. The guided tour of the pepper sauce factory was a fascinating opportunity to hear about the company's history and to get a glimpse of how the sauce is actually made. I learned a few things, too. For example, did you know that the McIlhenny Company uses old Jack Daniel's whisky barrels for ageing the “pepper mash” that becomes hot sauce? During the tour, we also got tiny sample bottles of the complete range of Tabasco brand sauces – Original Red, Green Jalapeño, Chipotle, Buffalo Style, Habanero, Garlic Pepper, and Sweet & Spicy. Plus, it was just neat to see the humble facilities where something as globally beloved as Tabasco Sauce is made. The grounds near the factory had a rustic charm and the air smelled peppery sweet.
In addition to the factory, visitors to Avery Island can also tour round its Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre garden with “semitropical foliage, abundant wildlife, a centuries-old Buddha statue” and lots and lots (we're talking in the several hundreds or even thousands) of graceful snowy egrets. There are plenty of alligators there too. We saw a couple of gators out sunning themselves during a scenic drive through the gardens. Roaming in car and on foot round the island's gardens and marshes was a great way to spend a sunshiny morning and worth the trip there alone.
Tabasco Country Store
The Tabasco Country Store (read: gift shop) has all sorts of souvenirs, trinkets et al for the pepper sauce lover in your life. Some of what was on offer was total schlock but there were some cool things for sale too. We picked up a bag of Hot & Spicy Cheez-its for the road and a jar of Spicy Pepper Jelly to enjoy once at home (still haven't opened it yet – waiting for the “right” occasion). There's also a snack bar at the store with a reasonably priced lunch and snack menu along with lots of freebies to sample! Jalapeño ice cream was a particularly interesting item I tasted while there.
Find out more about this fascinating and spicy hot destination at tabasco.com/avery-island.