New England has long been a hotbed of inventiveness and enterprise, home to makers, artisans, and proud producers, creating everything from granite monuments to stone-ground chocolate. On a guided factory tour, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how some of these iconic products are made. Here are 9 of our favorites, where good ol’ Yankee ingenuity is on full display.
Factory tours in Maine
1. Thos. Moser, Auburn
What does it take to turn slabs of rough lumber into high-quality furniture pieces? You can find out on a fascinating tour of Thos. Moser, a fine furniture–making company that began in 1972 out of old Maine grange.
Now located in a modern, 80,000-square-foot facility, artisans use both traditional hand tools and high-tech machines to create tables, chairs, beds, and more from sustainably sourced North American hardwoods. You’ll view the process, from the rough mill where wood is selected to the workshop where founder Tom Moser worked on new designs. Free.
2. Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections, Freeport
It’s not quite Willy Wonka, but a behind-the-scenes visit to this New England favorite is delightful. Private 30- to 45-minute tours include a viewing of All About Chocolate, a movie that showcases the history of the long-standing family-owned company, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2023.
The tour ends with a peek through the factory windows into the enrobing and panning rooms to watch chocolatiers at work. Along the way, you’ll sample several goodies—perhaps their best-selling chocolate-covered blueberries or hand-crafted caramels. The company also hosts a variety of special events on select weekends, including demonstrations, DIY workshops, and children’s parties. Tours, $5 per person; reservations required.
Factory tours in New Hampshire
3. Conner Bottling Works, Newfields
The Conner family has been producing their iconic Squamscot Old Fashioned Beverages for more than 5 generations, and a tour of their factory is a study in New England ingenuity and perseverance. You’ll hear how the company started producing spruce beer in 1863 and switched to sodas during Prohibition.
Today, they work out of a rustic barn, producing 27 different flavors, including their popular ginger ale made with fine Jamaican ginger. You’ll visit the bottling room, a noisy conveyor belt area where custom-created syrups are mixed with carbonated well water following recipes handed down for more than 50 years. Watch as an occasional bottle is snagged off the belt and tasted for quality control, and end with a sampling of the day’s flavor. Free; call for tour schedule and reservations.
Factory tours in Vermont
4. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Waterbury
No roundup of New England factory tours would be complete without this crowd-pleaser. The famed ice cream makers create their products in a gorgeous setting amid expansive fields in the shadows of the Green Mountains.
Take in the view, then hop on the 30-minute guided Factory Experience tour to learn about the history of the company, which started in 1978. Today, they operate out of a modern, high-tech facility. The best part of the tour ends with a sample of the day’s featured flavor. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Adults, $6.
5. Plymouth Artisan Cheese, Plymouth Notch
It’s low-tech and hands-on at this historic cheese factory, built by John Coolidge, father of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States. Follow the back roads to the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site. Next door to Coolidge’s birthplace and childhood home, you can watch a small team of artisans, under the helm of head cheese maker and owner Jesse Werner, produce some of America’s oldest cheeses.
Not much has changed since the Coolidge days. The cheese is still crafted, cut, and waxed in small batches, following a recipe dating back to 1890. A small museum has historic photos and exhibits, and a store sells several varieties, including the buttery-soft Original Plymouth cheddar. It’s the oldest cheddar cheese in America, and their top seller. Self-guided; free.
6. Rock of Ages, Barre
Towering stone walls rise above sparkling turquoise blue waters; workers and machinery look like tiny Lego figures. Standing on an overlook at the edge of the massive E.L. Smith Quarry is the highlight of this guided tour. At nearly 600 feet deep, it’s the world’s largest operating deep-hole quarry, famous for its exquisite gray granite.
The 40-minute tour starts at the modern visitors center with a video presentation on how granite is formed; extracted from the quarry; and turned into sculptures, memorials, and mausoleums. You’ll also get a peek into the 160,000-square-foot factory to watch artisans at work. Quarry tours are offered May through early November; adults, $7. Self-guided factory tours are free with admission.
7. Simon Pearce, Quechee
There’s something captivating about the ancient art of glassblowing—watching fiery, molten glass as it moves from the furnace to be handcrafted into one-of-a-kind art pieces.
At this flagship store, set on the shores of the Ottauquechee River, you’ll see glassblowing artisans at work, practicing a craft that hasn’t changed much over the past 1,000 years or so. Watch the artisans (they also demonstrate their techniques), and then move into the retail store, jam-packed with Simon Pearce’s popular designs.
Consider making a lunch or dinner reservation at The Restaurant, where the dining room overlooks the Ottauquechee River. Restaurant closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Glassblowing demonstrations are free and also available at the Windsor, Vermont, location.
Factory tours in Massachusetts
8. Samuel Adams Boston Brewery
“My cousin from Boston,” featured in those Samuel Adams TV commercials, is one annoying dude, but you can’t deny the appeal of the company’s brewery tours. Founder Jim Koch, the granddad of America’s craft brewing scene, brewed his first Boston lager in his home kitchen in 1984.
Nearly 40 years later, beer enthusiasts and tourists show up daily for the Sam Signature Experience, a must-do tour (it’s open to all ages, but guests must be 21 or older to drink). Guests learn about beer ingredients and the brewing process, sip the flagship Boston Lager, and sample craft brews that are in the research and development phase. One of those could be the Next Big Thing in the beer cooler. Other specialty tours are also offered. Sam Signature Experience, $10 per person by reservation; walk-ins may be available.
9. Taza Chocolate, Somerville
Gritty. Unrefined. Bold. Are we describing the latest TikTok dance craze? Believe it or not, it’s chocolate.
Taza Chocolate co-founder Alex Whitmore first sampled stone-ground chocolate in Oaxaca, Mexico. Besotted with the flavor’s rustic intensity, he decided to develop a chocolate factory back home in Somerville, hand-carving granite millstones himself to grind the cacao. The Mexican-style dark chocolate—and Amaze Bars enhanced with flavors like ginger and raspberry—has added to Somerville’s sweet cache (in 1917, a Somerville resident invented Marshmallow Fluff).
At Taza, you’ll learn how cacao is grown and harvested, and how those granite millstones—which look like something out of The Flintstones—produce distinctive, tasty chocolate. Of course, you’ll sample plenty of stone-ground chocolate.
While they can’t guarantee you’ll see chocolate being made on every tour, guides will describe the process—and reveal why this confection is so different from the typical chocolate bar. Tickets, $12 per person; online reservations are required. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Families with children under age 10 are encouraged to visit at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for the Cacao Scouts Scavenger Hunt.
New England–based writers Diane Bair and Pamela Wright cover food and travel for several publications and are frequent Boston Globe contributors.
AAA travel alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.
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