Thursday, October 11, 2007
Daffin’s Candies Factory & World’s Largest Candy Store
Right after All Candy Expo closed, I scrambled off for a much-anticipated visit with family in the Pittsburgh area. My mother came and got me at my brother’s and we went off to Farrell, PA to see Daffin’s Candies factory and then to Sharon, PA and the “World’s Largest Candy Store.”
The Daffin family has been making boxed chocolates for over 100 years and at their factory in Farrell, Pennsylvania since the late 40s.
Daffin’s offers free tours of their factory (usually only for groups of 12 or more, but they made an exception for me & my mom). We were graced with Johanna as our guide, she’s been with Daffin’s for over 30 years, starting part time as seasonal help in packing orders and now works full time on the floor. I’ve had quite a few tours over the past few years and this was the first time I’d had one from someone who’d paid their dues at just about every station in the factory (instead of the person running the company or hired just to lead tours).
The tour started with the chocolate. A huge, closed vat (kind of like a large double boiler but looks like a humongo hot water heater that holds 300 gallons) keeps the chocolate at a consistent temperature day and night. (On that day it was filled with milk chocolate, other periods they fill it with dark chocolate when they’re running that product line.) The milk chocolate is made to their specifications by Peter’s Chocolate.
The candy is made pretty much just like you’d do at home, only on a larger scale. Since Daffin’s makes mostly cream centered candies (and some barks), they have large copper kettles for creating nougats, buttercreams and meltaways. The centers are spread on cooling tables, then cut into pieces and are then fed into an enrober on the line. They were prepping several tables of stuff, it looked like fudge and an almond nougatine while we were there.
The main highlight of the tour was watching as they made their Milk Chocolate Covered Cherries from start to finish. The cherries are tumbled in a small panning machine (it looks like a cement mixer) to cover them with a syrup and then sugar coating. The little cherry blobs are then placed on a conveyor on top of little bases of chocolate. They go through two curtains of chocolate then a cooling tunnel. Then they’re boxed up and set for shipping.
The other specialty of the house is molded chocolates. Daffin’s is known for their huge variety of pops and chocolate creatures for every holiday. We saw them making chocolate witches, pumpkins and even starting on the Thanksgiving turkeys already.
They had some other lines as well as the enrober. The other was a depositor, which as the name suggests, deposits chocolate into a small mold (or bars, I’m guessing). In this case it was a little daisy shaped mold that got a peanut butter meltaway center. Just like the cherries, once the piece was formed the tray of chocolates went into a cooling tunnel. The tunnel then flipped over and the chocolates came out of their molds. (If they didn’t there was a helpful fellow on the line who gave them a good smack.) Another set of workers pulled the individual candies off the conveyor and put them into boxes (and checked them as well, tossing aside the mal-formed pieces).
The factory has a special tour before Easter each year called Swizzle Stick Day. It’s very popular with families in the area. The free tour is capped off with a Swizzle Stick - the visitor gets to pick any “center” such as raspberry cream, nougatine, etc. Then it’s put on a stick and fresh dipped in chocolate right there!
The real attraction to Daffin’s however, is not their factory tour. It’s their store in nearby Sharon, Pennsylvania. While they’re proud to talk about their “Chocolate Kingdom”, I find their strangely scaled statues of animals, castles and little towns to be kind of creepy and not the slightest bit engaging. Sure, they’re covered in chocolate ... but since I can’t eat that (who knows how old they are?) what’s the point? I wanna buy something!
They say that it’s the “World’s Largest Candy Store” and though I’m not certain what the criteria would be ... I’m impressed. They not only sell their own chocolates from the factory, they also have a huge selection of candy from all over the world. It’s not about the ordinary candy bar here, but pre-packed 8 ounce bags of everything. Gummis, jellies, jelly beans, Jordan almonds, mints, licorice and sours. Most were $2 to $3 a bag. They also had large pick-a-mix areas with individually wrapped hard candies (maybe 100 different bins?) for $3.49 a pound and some salt water taffy bins, too.
The store is quite different from Dylan’s Candy Bar, which has a lot more candy bars and focuses on hip design and of course the bulk items aren’t prepacked. But everything here is about 1/3 the price. It’s not quite Economy Candy either, which has far more packaged international items like mints from Italy, bars from England and of course all the regional American specialties. It’s also, well, in Sharon, PA ... so it’s not like either of those two stores are within spitting distance.
From their candy counter my mother and I picked out some of their barks. We got the Potato Chip Bark and Pretzel Bark (and something else I can’t remember that had marshmallow in it). I also got some Sugar Mints.
I’d been looking for these since I ran across a thread on RoadFood.com over a year ago. They go by a lot of different names (MerriMints, Sherbet Mints, Melty Mints, French Cremes), but they’re basically just sugar (some recipes call for a little butter) with a little flavoring and color that are dolloped out (usually with a ridged side) and dried. Think of them as frosting disks!
I selected one of every flavor - Peppermint, Lemon, Orange, Cinnamon, Wintergreen and Root Beer. The melt easily on the tongue and were lightly flavored. All were great, except for the cinnamon, which was a maroon-red and tasted so bitter (food coloring!) that I couldn’t eat it. They were really reasonably priced. I think they were $8 a pound and I requested four of each flavor ... which came to $1.75!
The other barks were merely interesting. I’ve decided that Daffin special milk chocolate mix is far too sweet for me. Even with the mixed in items of the salty chips or pretzels, a little piece was all I could handle. I’m rather sad I didn’t try any of their dark chocolate items. (But I might return there sometime before Christmas or something because they have such a great selection.)
I really enjoyed their store, everyone was wonderfully friendly. I would definitely shop there again, but the chocolates are just not my style. Too old-school sweet for me.
Daffin’s Factory & Chocolate Shoppe
Daffin’s Chocolate Kingdom & World’s Largest Candy Store
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.