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A Visit to Avery Island, Louisiana: Home of Tabasco Sauce

Last week I had the unique opportunity of visiting Louisiana for the first time ever!  I’m a California girl, so the south is little bit like foreign territory to me.  The people, the food and the bayou- were all things I was looking forward to.  The trip was a blast- every minute of it.  Here’s a little recap of my time  there.

I was invited on the trip along with a few other food and cocktail bloggers by the folks at Tabasco Sauce.  We stayed on Avery Island, home of  Tabasco Sauce– which was founded in 1868 by Edmund McIlhenny.  Five generations later, the sauce is still made on Avery Island, and the company is still family owned and operated.  That’s not something you can say very often these days!

We were educated on the whole process of how Tabasco is made (and how it has always been made).  Peppers are grown and then ground into “mash,” and then they are packed into large barrels where salt is added and they are given time to age.  In the old days, bottles and jugs were used instead of barrels, like the ones shown in the lower left.  We had an opportunity to taste the “mash,” which was super duper spicy… so they gave us a swig of bourbon for being brave enough to take a taste 🙂

In the processing plant, they add vinegar to create Tabasco “sauce.”  It goes into huge vats with stirring arms, and it’s aged a bit more before it’s ready to bottle and ship to more than 160 countries around the world.  Interestingly enough, Japan is the country that uses the most Tabasco sauce of any other.  That was a little surprising to me.  I wonder what they use it for?

The Tabasco Country Store has all kinds of fun Tabasco-themed goodies.  No, I didn’t taste the Tabasco Spam, but I did learn that the people of Guam are really into this stuff.  I was told that they consume more Tabasco per capita than any other country.

Cruisin’ down the bayou was a fun highlight of our trip, even though those menacing clouds followed us around all day.  Gaby and Jenna were fun friends to hang out with (picture from Jenna).  And I got my very first ride down the bayou and through the swamp in this super cool airboat!

Along the bayou, we stopped and had a crawfish boil, of course!  Another first- I had never had crawfish before this trip… ever!  Well, I had my fill of crawfish.  I thought they were good… but they were an awful pain in the butt to get to for just that little bitty piece of fish.  Doing it all right on the bayou though was a priceless experience.

We had a dinner one night in the McIlhenny’s family home.  They brought in Alon Shaya, a James Beard nominated chef from the Domenica Restaurant in New Orleans to teach us how to make homemade pasta and a most excellent shrimp stock (the secret to the rich flavor being… keep the shells- heads and all- on while simmering).  Chef Alon served up several courses – all using different varieties of Tabasco Sauce- amidst a thunder and lightning storm in a very old house.   Everything was amazing, but my favorite dish of the evening was a fried eggplant served over a green Tabasco- based sauce.

At cocktail hour, we were given a lesson in how to make some cocktails with Tabasco Sauce by the experts at Cure, New Orleans.  This is some sort of drink called a Hurricane Alley on the left (I’m so not good at cocktails, so I really can’t tell you what was in it… even though I made the thing and shook it myself!)  The drink on the right – another first for me- is a Bloody Mary, made by Jeffrey from the blog The Cocktail Guru– who was also on the trip.  Although I enjoyed the Bloody Mary, I’m just not sure I could drink these in the morning.  Do people do that??

Another fun hot spot to visit on Avery Island is Jungle Gardens.  Ned McIlhenny (son of Edmund) brought in exotic plants from all over the world to create these gardens back in the 1920’s.  Today it spans 170 acres of protected land.  The buddha you see in the photo was a gift from one of Ned’s buddies, so he plopped it in the middle of his Jungle Gardens.  He also founded Bird City, a private bird sanctuary for the once- endangered snowy egret.  The birds still come back to nest and have hundreds of babies every year!  We saw a few gators, but no big guys.  It was a little chilly for much alligator action.  Next time, I want to see more gators!

Most of us on the trip had the opportunity to stay in the McIlhenny home, built back in the 19th century.  You certainly can’t stay anywhere that was built in the 1800’s without being slightly weirded-out that there might be a few ghosts around.  These were two chairs in my room that I thought were pretty darn spooky.  I kept thinking to myself… if I wake up in the middle of the night and the house’s ghosts decide to visit my room, these are the chairs they will be sitting in.  Or spontaneous rocking of that rocking chair there, right??  Nothing happened.  But we did end up hearing some pretty cool ghost stories of things seen in the house and around the property!

Finally, the trip would not have been complete without a proper Tabasco Sauce tasting and education about all of their sauce varieties!  I have to admit… I’ve never ventured out from the basic Tabasco Sauce, and I definitely wasn’t familiar with the varieties that they carry.  The basic stuff… my husband puts it on his eggs.  I add it to recipes, but I tended to shy away from sprinkling its spiciness on my eggs.  See that Chipotle variety right there?  THAT is my new favorite sauce.  I’ve been sprinkling it on literally everything, and the Green Tabasco is the stuff I’ve been enjoying on my eggs.  I’m such a fan.

If you ever find yourself in Southern Louisiana, I’d recommend stopping in on Avery Island to see what it’s all about.  It’s beautiful country, and touring the Tabasco factory is fun too.  Thanks to the McIlhenny family for hosting me on Avery Island.  I loved every minute of the trip and everyone in your family is delightful.  Thanks to Hunter PR for putting together a fun weekend.  I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.

This trip was offered courtesy of Tabasco Sauce and the McIlhenny Family.  All opinions expressed are my own.  

36 Responses to “A Visit to Avery Island, Louisiana: Home of Tabasco Sauce”

  1. postedApr 27, 2012 3:30 AM

    It looks like such a wonderful trip!

  2. postedApr 27, 2012 5:45 AM

    Ironically i just watched the episode on “How its made” last night that was about making tabasco! Not a big fan of the stuff but you gave a great story!

  3. postedApr 27, 2012 6:06 AM

    What a fun experience!

  4. postedApr 27, 2012 6:35 AM
    Catalina @ Cake with Love

    That looks like so much fun!!!

  5. postedApr 27, 2012 8:09 AM

    I love the name Avery Island given my name 🙂

    Glad you had a great trip and I lived in the South (South Carolina) for 4 years and it’s a world apart from San Diego, that’s for sure! Glad you were able to visit LA for the first time ever; the pics look fabulous!

    • postedApr 27, 2012 9:02 AM

      Ha! yes, Averie- you need to go to Avery Island for sure 🙂

  6. postedApr 27, 2012 8:27 AM

    Cajun cooking is so good! My parents always taught me don’t buy hot sauce unless it’s made on Avery Island.

  7. postedApr 27, 2012 1:08 PM

    Looks like a fun trip! And now I want crawfish!

  8. postedApr 27, 2012 1:14 PM

    Wow!! I’m so envious! I love love love Tabasco! Those Tabasco chips are so delicious! I hope one day I’ll get the chance to visit to see how Tabasco is made 🙂 I still remember my first taste of Tabasco at age 4… I thought it was vinegar so I put a lot into my soup… It does say vinegar as an ingredient… Needless to say, even though it was very spicy, I was afraid of getting yelled at for wasting food so I didn’t tell my parents and ate the whole bowl, haha…

  9. postedApr 28, 2012 1:41 AM

    How fun! I was following your trip via Instagram and it looks like you had a blast! And I definitely want to try that tabsaco spam. Spam is a very important staple in the Korean community.

  10. postedApr 28, 2012 5:25 AM

    We visited Avery Island about eight years ago and found it very interesting. Hubby and I are both big fans of hot stuff!! 🙂

  11. postedApr 28, 2012 5:33 AM

    What a fun trip Lori! Food trips are the best and always fun and educational! I can almost smell the Tobasco NOW!

  12. postedApr 28, 2012 6:09 AM

    I would love to visit the Tabasco company! I love my to sauce! What a fun trip!

  13. postedApr 28, 2012 7:39 AM

    I’m ready to go to Avery Island to tour and visit. My dad was a Louisiana boy and the sauce was on our table day and night.
    Friends and myself were just talking about Tabasco last nite at our local Pub Night in our neighborhood.
    I would really like to visit. I’ll have to explore my dad’s home state more.

  14. postedApr 28, 2012 5:14 PM

    How fun! I loved reading about this trip, and I want to try the chipotle Tabasco.

  15. postedApr 29, 2012 7:16 AM

    How fun!! We are friends with some of the McIlhenny’s and have always wanted to go there. Love the pics!

  16. postedApr 29, 2012 7:38 AM

    Benvenue! So glad you enjoyed your visit to our state! I grew up about an hour and a half from Avery Island. It’s amazingly rich in culture and beautiful. Next visit, come to my hometown, Eunice, LA to experience a real Mardi Gras.

    • postedApr 29, 2012 8:17 AM

      Yes, I need to experience a Mardi Gras for sure one of these days!

  17. postedApr 29, 2012 9:15 AM

    Great trip!! So fun. Yay for the Guam shout out!! I lived there for 2 years, they LOVE spam and definitely use their share of spice 🙂

  18. postedApr 29, 2012 2:49 PM

    What a very cool trip!

  19. postedApr 29, 2012 2:56 PM

    This looks like an awesome experience. I want to go! Spam is so creepy. My Granny used to eat it on a sandwich with tomatoes and mayo. Yuck!

  20. postedApr 30, 2012 7:41 AM

    Great write-up, Lori. I’ve read a few others’ posts of visits to tour the Tabasco operation and enjoy it every time. I had a sixth grader who is related to the McIlhennys and remember him talking about the island and the factory. I’ll have to remember the “swig of bourbon” chaser after a shot of Tabasco! Love the photos!

    • postedApr 30, 2012 8:37 AM

      That’s funny. Yeah, it’s a HUGE family, and they seem to be spread out all over the place… many of them eventually coming back home to LA to work for the family biz.

  21. postedApr 30, 2012 8:34 AM

    What a fun trip! I am a Tabasco addict!

    • postedApr 30, 2012 8:36 AM

      Have you tried some of the different varieties? I had no idea how many there were!

  22. postedApr 30, 2012 9:22 AM
    Kathy Webb

    I have been following your blog.. I am from Louisiana… I LOVED this as it is part of Louisiana… Thanks for the great blog! I enjoyed it all and it sounds like you got the great southern hospitality from us Louisianans… LOL

    • postedApr 30, 2012 9:25 AM

      Yes, indeed- warm hospitality from everyone we met! And I just loved that strong LA accent!

  23. postedApr 30, 2012 7:46 PM

    What a great trip! I love travel, and enjoyed your photos. I myself am a southern girl, but I’ve never made it over to Louisiana. We have stayed in the bayou section of a Disney Resort if this counts..haha. While my hubby is a hot sauce nut, I’m not. I have to say though, since we both love chipotle flavor, we’ll have to try this one. 🙂

  24. postedMay 1, 2012 9:41 AM

    Sounds like you had a great time in Louisiana Lori! I love that state, the food is amazing and the people are so friendly. The French influence also reminds me of home.

  25. postedMay 1, 2012 7:36 PM

    Lori, this is amazing! I would love to see this in person. How lucky. And I just did a post on buffalo sauce. Wonder what that process looks like 😉

  26. postedMay 2, 2012 11:56 AM

    Well done at the Bayou! I was born in NOLA, but I should go back now that my taste buds are more… “mature!” Everything looks exciting and yummy!

  27. postedMay 7, 2012 3:42 PM
    Maria in NJ

    What an awesome trip that must have been Lori!

  28. postedMay 20, 2012 5:17 AM
    Lisa Chance

    I happen to be lucky enough to be from Southwest Louisiana (Lake Charles) and have been to Avery Island many times. I absolutely love it. The grounds are beautiful and always strike me as a bit mysterious. I have tons of pics of the Buddha; I think he’s my fav. So funny to hear people talk about things that are part of our everyday life like it was an adventure! 🙂 However, I have been on an airboat ride only once and had a blast! That was so cool! We went on part of the Achafalaya Basin & it was an amazingly beautiful trip that I highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to go. Crawfish peeling is something that one has to master after lots of practice. It does seem like a lot of work for a tiny bit of meat, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you can peel those little suckers in no time! It’s always an exciting thing when one of the little kids learns how to peel their own! Haha And the best part of any crawfish boil is the companionship of a group of fun-loving, hilarious people I’m blessed to call my family & friends. So glad you enjoyed your trip to “our neck of the woods”. Louisianans love to show people a good time!

  29. postedMay 21, 2012 8:05 PM
    Stacey Miller

    Lisa is right. Crawfish peeling starts at an early age. I remember being a young girl learning to peel crawfish. And I remember and still treasure today all the memories of sitting around a big table of boiled crawfish sharing stories and good times with family and friends. It is fun to be the next generation of adults peeling crawfish for the ‘babies’ too little to peel but want to eat some! Being raised with them, you get pretty fast at peeling for yourself and for others.(And knowing which batch to really dig into as each batch gets hotter!) And you get a chance to sit down and visit with aunts, uncles and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins! We cajuns got BIG families!

  30. postedJan 9, 2014 4:00 AM
    Bea Long

    Every time I see this it reminds me of how homesick I am. I hope to move back this year. I love Louisiana and have such memories there. Sad face…

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