You may not have heard of Avery Island, LA and the name Edmund McIlhenny may not immediately ring a bell. But you are almost certain to be familiar with a product manufactured here by the McIlhenny family since 1868 — the peppery-hot condiment called Tabasco Sauce.
Driving over the small toll bridge onto Avery Island, I know I've arrived at my destination as I notice the peppery-vinegar smell wafting through the air from the Tabasco factory that starts as a mild whiff and gets stronger the closer I get. Most visitors come here for the tour that tells the story of how Edmund McIlhenny planted the first pepper crops, perfected his recipe of peppers, salt and vinegar, and refined the fermentation process to develop the Tabasco Sauce we know today. The tour is pretty short: there's a very informative video; then, guides will take you through the working factory, along the various steps of production which end in the bottling room. Bottling takes place Mon. – Thurs. so plan accordingly. Every bottle of Tabasco Sauce around the world is produced and shipped from this location.
When the tour ends, be sure to check out the Tabasco Country Store, where you can pick up souvenirs of your visit and gift packs of Tabasco products. You can also sample foods made with the sauce. I tried a few and my favorite was definitely the Tabasco ice cream, if only for the uniqueness of it. But it's tastier than you'd think!
While the factory itself is a great reason to visit, it's not the only attraction here. The McIlhenny family was passionate about preserving the natural beauty and wildlife of Avery Island. A 250-acre wildlife refuge, named Jungle Gardens, was developed as a sanctuary for many species of wildlife, rare plants and beautiful flowers. In 1890, a small colony of egrets was raised on the island. They migrated over the winter, returned in the spring and their numbers grew. Today, thousands of egrets and other water birds spend the spring and summer months in Bird City, a protected enclave within Jungle Gardens. You can drive through the woods and around the swamps, but I urge you to get out of your car and walk around to really experience the wildlife. You may see huge blue herons stalking fish along streams and ponds, rabbits and deer nibbling grass, giant turkey vultures perched in trees, turtles soaking in the sun. You might also see alligators lining the bayous or skulking just below the water's surface, only nose and eyes visible.
Visit Avery Island in Iberia Parish for a day of natural beauty with a dash of Tabasco!
> More information on Iberia Parish.