YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- Did you know that it takes 4 pounds of raw potatoes to make 1 pound of chips? That's because 80 percent of a potato is water, which explains the plumes of steam rising above Utz Quality Foods Inc. in Hanover, Pa.
Free factory tours are great for trivia buffs and Rube Goldberg wannabes, and the Utz ''Chip Trip," is no exception. The company started in 1921 with Bill and Salie Utz kettle-frying chips in their summer house, and it has grown into a regional snack food behemoth that produces 13,000 pounds of potato chips per hour.
The tour is one of many of its kind in York County, the self-proclaimed ''Factory Tour Capital of the World." Although the area is best known for refrigeration, heavy machinery, and
The self-guided Utz tour begins inauspiciously with a live video feed of the storage cellar, which can hold 40 million pounds of potatoes. The tour becomes more engaging as you follow the process that turns those spuds into packaged chips in only 30 minutes. Machines peel and slice the potatoes, soak out the extra starch, blow them dry, spill them into 340-degree cottonseed oil for two to three minutes, apply salt and/or spices, and spread them onto a cooling line. The finished chips are funneled, diverted, and shot out in controlled bursts into bags.
Visitors can help themselves to small bags of plain chips at the factory, or head for the factory store to stock up on the Utz varieties: four flavors of barbecue, crab, Chesapeake Bay seasoning, salt and vinegar, salt and pepper, red-hot . . .
Snyder's of Hanover also bolsters York's snack-food reputation. Founded in 1909, it is now, based on sales, the top pretzel factory in the country, according to guide Tessa Amoss.
''We're a snack-food company," Amoss tells a group of second-graders. ''We make a little of everything, but pretzels are our specialty." She smiles and unconsciously fingers her diamond-studded pretzel choker.
The factory, which runs 24/7 except on Christmas, goes through 50,000 pounds of flour daily. The mixing and processing of the pretzel dough take place behind closed doors -- Amoss says it is proprietary -- but the shake-rattle-and-roll of its transport through caustic soda bath (to make the pretzels brown), salting line, and baking ovens is visible through the overhead windows. The children have other concerns. ''Has anybody ever lost a finger?" one wide-eyed second-grader asks. ''A long time ago," Amoss says, not missing a beat. ''And if it ever happened again," she reassures the girl, ''they can sew them back on nowadays." Just in case, all the bags are X-rayed for foreign objects.
The Snyder's tour ends in the factory outlet store, with generous sampling stations and a dizzying array of pretzels with various shapes, flavorings, and fillings. Employees are permitted to eat all the product they want, prompting some of the schoolchildren to start making career plans.
At Wolfgang Candy Company Inc., consuming the factory product seems to confer longevity. The founders' five children, all of whom were active in the company, lived into their 80s; the last of the siblings died last year at 97.
Founded in 1921, the company makes more than 60 kinds of candy. The busiest season is August through Easter, though it's impossible to predict which candies will be in production at any given time.
The company's signature raisin clusters are made entirely by hand. One person scoops melted chocolate with her bare hands onto a marble table to check the temperature and viscosity, then she dips handfuls of raisins into the cauldron of chocolate and forms candy clusters on a tray.
''There's lots of hands-on here," says guide Bridget Schell. Workers in white baker's aprons stand around industrial mixers concocting caramel, mint, and marshmallow fillings. An ingenious machine nearby presss indentations in a bed of cornstarch, which will be squirted full of the respective goos before being conveyed downstairs to be covered in chocolate. At another spot, hollow plastic molds stand ready to be injected with chocolate and spun around so that centrifugal force can create an Easter bunny-shaped shell.
Wolfgang's makes more than 25 kinds of boxed assortments, and the assembly line is straight out of the classic ''I Love Lucy" episode: Packers snatch peanut clusters, vanilla butter creams, and chocolate-dipped pretzels off the line to place in each box. Lucy's strategy for keeping up would work here.
''We can eat as much as we want," Schell says.
If a full day of snacks and sweets doesn't send you back to the hotel for a cup of yogurt and glass of mineral water, consider heading to Bube's Brewery for dinner and a look at what co-owner Sam Allen deems ''the only existing example we know of a pre-Prohibition brewery that remains intact."
Alois Bube, an immigrant from Bavaria, bought a small brewery in 1876 to produce German-style beer that he fermented in giant oak and chestnut casks on the ground level and aged in a catacomb of limestone caves beneath the property. ''When Miller's, Coors, and Pabst started, they were all like this," Allen says.
The brewery ceased production in 1917 and remained largely untouched. In 2001, Allen launched a microbrewery in the old ice house. Most of the brews are ales, which take two weeks to produce, but each season the brewer makes a lager, which takes eight weeks with aging, usually aiming for the style of Bube's old country. Current production is only a fraction of the pre-Prohibition capacity, and none of it goes into bottles. It's all drunk on draft.
There's hardly a better way to appreciate it than over dinner in the outdoor biergarten, hoisting a mug to old Alois and tucking into a plate of ribs.
Patricia Harris & David Lyon are freelance writers in Cambridge.