Nose to the Grindstone: Food Factory Tours

 

Food factory tours offer a chance to learn where food comes from — and often end in a tasty treat.

I’ve been cooking since I was a kid, and I’ve been teaching my kids to cook since they were able to hold a spoon. They aren’t under the impression that food just magically appears before them. But they really don’t know where that flour we’re using to make pizza dough or the cheese they’re grating to put on top of it comes from. Enter the food factory tour — several local companies offer a chance for grown-ups and kids to get a behind-the-scenes peek into how food is processed and packaged before it lands on grocery store shelves. Here’s a look at two of them.

Great Grains

I had fully intended to get to the Bob’s Red Mill Factory tour 10 minutes early. But I coasted in with my 2-year-old son, Cruz, and 5-year-old daughter, Adela, after the introductory video had already started. It did not faze our cheerful tour guide, Christie, who instantly started engaging with the kiddos. My kids get limited TV time, so even a video of flour being milled grabbed their attention.

We started in the factory’s gluten-free section, peering into windows where oats were being processed. Since the window to the factory was too high for my kids, I planned to take turns holding them up, but Christie helpfully offered to hold Cruz. (He was semi-okay with it and clung to the package of oat groats she passed him.)

Our next stop, the corn-grinding section, thankfully had a raised viewing stand for kids. Two other kids in the tour group needed the extra height to see in, too, but they all managed to squish in. As the corn poured out of the grinder and into a giant bag, it was like the pages of Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? had come to life before our eyes. Pro tip: The kids loved this section because busy forklifts zoomed around moving giant white bags filled with (literally) a ton of grains.

I definitely appreciated that Christie kept the stops short, herding us over to get our hands on some of the grains Bob’s Red Mill processes, including red sandy teff, chunky sorghum, and small yellow millet. Christie put the bucket of 15-bean soup mix on one of the chairs so Cruz and Adela had easy access to it. She asked them to pick out the red and white beans, which kept them occupied while she imparted baking wisdom about different types of flours.

By the time we started wrapping up the 75-minute tour, Cruz was done, but he perked up when he got a free oatmeal cup to take home. (The next day’s breakfast, check.) Christie complimented me on how well-behaved the kids had been and gave each of them a wooden token for a free cookie down the road at the

Bob’s Red Mill Factory Store. We drove over to redeem those tokens and eat some lunch, with Cruz opting for pancakes, Adela choosing a grilled cheese and a French dip sandwich for me — plus oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for all. We talked about which parts of our lunch came from the grains we had just seen processed. As she started eating her cookie, Adela issued her common endorsement of a fun activity: “This is the best day ever!”

Cruzie and the Chocolate Factory

 

If your kids (or you) love the book or movie versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Moonstruck Chocolate Co. Factory Store is the place for you. The store doesn’t offer an actual tour, but you can peer through giant windows overlooking the factory floor and watch all the work.

Cruz and I arrived around 10:30 on a Wednesday morning. The friendly receptionist told us we were there at a great time because the floor was so busy. Sure enough, as we looked through the windows we spied bustling workers decorating seasonal Frankenstein candies, wrapping up bars of chocolate, carefully placing cushioning paper inside the blue Moonstruck boxes, and then putting them in cardboard boxes to ship out. I felt a little like Veruca Salt’s dad in his nut factory, as I watched the crew doing their jobs. The receptionist said she still loves just pee

ring through the windows and watching all the chocolate magic happen, but waves at the crew so they don’t feel self-conscious. We smiled and waved, too.

As enthralling as watching the candy makers do their stuff was, the most fun part of our trip to Moonstruck was eating the chocolate. Whoever is working at the office will happily let you try some of the beautifully decorated varieties from the display case. Cruz knew he wanted a milk chocolate pumpkin, so we just bought one that he could eat part of there. (I didn’t want him to sample a bunch of different chocolates and get too hyped up.) We also took home a crème brulee werewolf for Adela, who was at school, and a peanut butter ghost … for me, I’m not gonna lie. If you think your little one does not have the patience to last on a full-length factory tour, and you both have a sweet tooth, the Moonstruck Factory Store is a perfect option.

Tour de Factory

The Franz Bakery offers 30-minute factory tours to groups. The tour ends with snacks of bread and butter and a little something to take home. Children must be 7 and older, and reservations must be made in advance. Visit franzbakery.com for more details.

No trip to the coast is complete without an ice cream stop at the Tillamook Cheese factory. This coming summer, the brand new Tillamook Cheese Visitors Center will open. The temporary visitors center is still serving up cheese samples and dishing out scoops of Oregon strawberry and chocolate peanut butter, but you’ll need to wait for the new center to be able to see the cheesemakers at work. Get more info at tillamook.com.

If You Go

Bob’s Red Mill Tour: 13521 SE Pheasant Ct., Milwaukie. Tours Monday through Friday at 10 am. Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store, Restaurant and Bakery: 5000 SE International Way, Milwaukie.

Moonstruck Chocolate Co. Factory Store: 6600 N Baltimore Ave. If you want to view the factory workers, get there Monday through Friday, 8:30 am-2:30 pm.

Denise Castañon
Denise Castañon

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