Ever since I watched the classic fantasy movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a child, I’ve dreamed of one day having the chance to explore an actual chocolate factory. This childhood dream was recently realized when I had the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes of the Baraboo Candy Company, home to numerous chocolaty confections.

The Baraboo Candy Company has been producing handmade gourmet chocolate treats for over thirty years. As the area’s largest chocolate factory and outlet, it is also recognized world-wide as the home of The Original Cow Pie!, as well as many other delicious cow-themed candies.

Using only the finest ingredients to create their chocolates, including real butter and milk that comes from Wisconsin farms, throughout the year they will produce over a hundred different varieties of candy. To help aide in creating this large assortment, they utilize caramel, toffee, meltaways, fudges, brittles, and a variety of nuts such as pecans, cashews, peanuts, and macadamias.

When I first arrived at Baraboo Candy, I was introduced to plant manager Tina David, who has worked for the company for sixteen years. As she showed me around the plant, I was able to take in the wonderful smells of fresh chocolate, which made me anxious to help make, as well as taste, some of the goodies that were being produced around me.

I learned that there are four “lines” that are used to make the candies, each consisting of a conveyor belt that moves ingredients along to where melted liquid chocolate pours from pipes, covering the pieces with either dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or fudge.

The candy then goes through a cooling tunnel that is kept at fifty-four degrees to cool them down, and the finished product comes out to the waiting hands of employees to eventually be packaged for sale.

While interviewing Tina, she mentioned that since it was the busy season, she’d continue to work while answering my questions. I watched as she quickly placed small circles of fresh pecans covered in caramel, on the moving conveyor belt in row of six, ready to be smothered in rich milk chocolate. Thirteen minutes later, the end result was a fresh Mini Cow Pie!, a smaller version of the original.

I asked Tina how The Original Cow Pie! came to be, and she told me that initially they used to make what was called a Jumbo Pecan Puddle, but a happy accident led to a change.   “One day, a few of them got thrown down the belt upside down and my boss at the time said – Oh my gosh, it looks like a cow pie! – and that’s how it all started.”

While the imagery of cow dung is not something you would expect to go hand in hand with a desert treat, the playfulness of their cartoon cow mascot, as well as the fact that they taste delicious, makes the fun candy their best seller. When I asked Tina approximately how many were made a year, she said with a smile: “Well, generally we make about 1400-1500 every day. So if you want to do the math, I’ll let you do the math on that one!”

Wanting to experience making some candy myself, I asked if I could lend a hand. After rolling out pecans on a sheet pan to prepare for dollops of caramel to be deposited on them, I went back to the milk chocolate line to attempt to replicate the rows of six I saw Tina do with ease. Using two hands, I started with just one cluster in each, which wasn’t too difficult to keep in uniform rows. Moving on to two in each hand was a little trickier, but I soon got the hang of it. My attempt at three in each hand however, failed miserably, reminding me a bit of the candy making scene in that classic I Love Lucy episode. That said, when one of the workers later brought me a bag of candy I played a part in making, they still tasted mighty delightful.  

The Baraboo Candy Company is open seven days a week, and is located between Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells, right across from Ho-Chunk Casino. While you won’t find any Oompa Loompa’s at the factory, they do serve free samples daily, and have a large assortment of their delicious wares that can be shipped nation-wide.

For more information visit: www.baraboocandy.com , to read the full interview with Tina, visit: www.dellsbucketlist.com, to see more pics of the factory visit the Dells Bucket List Facebook page.