Our fascination with chocolate factories is aptly captured by Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie is the proud winner of a golden ticket, his entree to the event of a lifetime: a behind-the-scenes tour of Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. I stumbled upon these virtual chocolate factory tours just in time for the chocolate holiday Valentine's Day. No tickets, golden or otherwise, required.
Ghirardelli Square, now a San Francisco landmark, was built at the turn of the century as a expansion of the Ghirardelli chocolate factory. Domingo Ghirardelli, born in Italy in 1817, was lured to California from Peru by tales of the gold rush. After several ill-fated business attempts, Ghirardelli returned to his roots in the chocolate business, and found incredible success. Unfortunately, their Web site is not a virtual tour, but I found the Ghirardelli history interesting.
Hershey's plant in Pennsylvania, with nearly two million square feet of manufacturing space, is the largest chocolate factory in the world. Since opening in 1905, it's hosted millions of visitors. The public tour, however, was discontinued in 1973. But today, without even leaving home, you can take the tour that made Hershey, PA "one of America's favorite destinations." First I learned that cocoa beans, the primary ingredient of chocolate, grow only within twenty degrees of the equator. No wonder no one in my neighborhood grows their own chocolate. Continuing with sugar, almonds, peanuts and milk, you'll learn about each ingredient and each part of the manufacturing process.
Rodolphe Lindt of Berne, Switzerland invented the chocolate-refining process known as "conching" and was the first to add cocoa butter to chocolate. I was very excited to find this online tour of the Lindt & Sprungli factory because of the time I spent in Switzerland working on the computers at Swiss Credit Bank. When I wasn't knee-deep in octal memory dumps (have I impressed you yet?), I could be found checking out the goods at the Sprungli cafe in Zurich. To view the video tour, you'll need to download Microsoft's NetShow. But once you have, there is little delay in the streaming-video factory tour.