As a child, touring a candy factory would be a dream. Though that fantasy became reality in adulthood, it was nothing short of magical.
Today is the first day that See's will start working on their holiday production, which means the team will jump headfirst into making 30-40 individual candies and 40-50 designs, dedicated solely to the season of cheer. Damian Gaytan, plant manager (and our tour guide for the day), tells me they'll be working on a range of delectable varieties including eggnog and marzipan, a flavor they produce the most of for Christmas. Though some of the options remain the same, many will receive a makeover with special festive decor that's entirely different from their other holiday treats.
First, we explore the ongoings on the truffle line, where we watch giant mixers filled with gooey goodness yield little globose mounds to become the candies we've frequently sorted through in those trademark, white boxes. After a very particular cooling procedure, the truffles make their way into tempering process, which Gaytan explains is like combing your hair. The crystals need to be aligned in a single direction to prevent the cocoa powder from migrating to the exterior of the chocolate. Called blooming, this is the when the fat makes it way to the outside. This is seen, for instance, when chocolate melts and a powdery white substance appears (remember when you ate that melted Kit Kat in your car?). Tempering is also critical to ensure the smooth, shiny surface of the truffle.
As we continue along the line, Gaytan endowing us with information, our senses become ablaze, wild with an animalistic craving to touch and try everything that we're seeing and smelling. Defenseless to the permeating warm scent of chocolate, caramel, pecans, we get closer, peering at the truffles being covered in chocolate and cooled in a multiple-round process until the percent size, weight, height, and firmness are achieved. Gaytan satiates our palates and our curiosities by taking us into the Bon Bon Room, where he says, "This is where making the candy becomes art."
There, we encounter yet another perfectly ordered assembly line of women who each have their own task of hand-making truffles. A perfectly rolled mound of cream or chewy nut is dipped in a bowl of saccharine delight; then with a gentle sweep, it's pulled out. A quick swish of a hand and a flawless chocolate ribbon appears over the top. Gaytan tells us that it takes years of experience of making the same candy to be able to do it properly. The adept aforementioned hand movements are a signature of See's handmade candies.
It's in the Bon Bon Room that we experience the Scotch Kiss, a honey marshmallow dipped in chocolate. Though a seemingly harmless encounter, this event led me straight to the connected See's shop after the tour to buy not one, but four of these. In my defense it was meant to be shared.
Following that moment of bliss I am jaundiced when I hear that each morning, they will taste whatever is running on the line to check that the candy is immaculate. A 9am meeting with the extended team is set to check every candy they ran the day before to make sure the all the specs of the chocolate are spot on, including the taste and amount of shine, etc. Apparently, it takes 24 hours to balance the structure of the chocolate, and if you bite it before it's ready you'll miss the satisfying snap. Another key factor is the chocolate encapsulating the candy center in full. If there's a hole, moisture can seep out, or vice versa for the truffle to get soft or even moldy. It's a precarious process, especially when they use all natural ingredients and no preservatives.
Walking past people stirring vats of cream, Gaytan divulges that these are the elite of the factory as they are the only one who know when the candy is ready to be picked up. That crew is kept year round and it takes two years to train to be a part of this team as a certified candy maker.
Towards the end of the tour, while we gape at dark and white chocolate being perfectly poured, Gaytan says the people that work at See's have been there 30-40 years. He tells me to look around. "People are happy and retire from here." And it's no wonder with the amount of devotion they put into their work, and the limitless joy that comes from biting into a See's candy.