I like my sweets, but I tend to like my sweets a little more diluted than a lot of people. Chocolate cake? No thanks. Candy bar? Eh, I'll pass. That isn't to say I don't enjoy them - especially the high quality ones - but they aren't my favorite. I can really take them or leave them. But give me something I can better dig my teeth into, like the opportunity to visit a gourmet caramel apple factory, and I'm all over it.
I'd heard of Mrs. Prindables before, as a friend of mine in my playgroup received four of the gigantic gourmet apples for Valentine's Day a few years ago. Since she wasn't able to finish them by herself, she graciously shared them with us, and we loved them. Even with all of us there, we couldn't polish off her apples, as they were so large and so filling, but they were great.
I had great hopes for seeing more of Mrs. Prindable's, and the behind the scenes factory tour only stoked my anticipation. I love seeing how things are made and learning about different processes. Lucky for me, the tour didn't disappoint.
First of all, a few things I learned on the tour. Mrs. Prindables doesn't just make the gigantic Mrs. Prindables apples. They also make the Affy Tapple apples that are sold in retail outlets and apples for QVC.
The Mrs. Prindable's apples are largest (and no, there never was a Mrs. Prindable), and they are hand dipped and hand decorated, according to their type. The QVC apples are mid-sized and also hand-dipped, and these are sold in multi-packs. The Affy Tapple apples are the smallest and are created via machines on an assembly line that was oh so cool to watch.
They make all of this in-house, with the exception of some of the toppings like M&Ms and cranberries and nuts, which they purchase as raw materials. We got to see some of the caramel being created in their giant copper kettles. Once the caramel is cooked, it is moved to the dipping stations where it is first strained to ensure no lumps make it onto your apple. While all the caramel is made onsite, the caramel used for the Mrs. Prindable's apples is a little more "gourmet" than that used for the Affy Tapple Apples.
The apples used are primarily from Washington, as they are the only source that can provide such consistently large apples. There are huge crates of apples that are used in production. Prior to use they are stored in vacuum sealed, near freezing rooms to ensure they stay fresh until they are needed. There is no pre-production of the Mrs. Prindables or QVC apples. Every apple produced each day has been ordered by someone and will go out that day.
The same is true for their chocolate. They melt and temper is all onsite (and yes, we got to see some of this, too). It is all done by hand by employees who have been with the company for years. Their supervisor has been with Mrs. Prindables for eighteen years. Can you imagine what I would look like after working at a company like this for that long?
This gives you a sense of how they create their QVC apples. It was amazing to see how fast they could work. They dipped the apple into the caramel, spun it briefly to remove the excess, then coated it with the appropriate topping. By the time I finished one, they would have had the whole tray done, I think.
Can you say yum?
There are lots and lots of flavors, and as you can see, they also create dipped pretzels sticks and other products, e.g., the caramels, which weren't in production the day we were there.
This gives you a sense of how the oh-so-special gourmet Mrs. Prindables apples are created. They are made in an entirely different room that is chilled because of all the chocolate they are working with. The caramel is first dipped into its chocolate coating before the next layers of chocolate (for this triple chocolate apple) are applied by hand. I was amazed by how consistently they were appled and at how thick the stripes of chocolate were.
Each successive layer of chocolate is applied by a different person, using the same techniques and with the same result - a growling tummy from me!
And then you end up with the perfect triple chocolate caramel apple. Yum! (Do you hate me yet?)
Or pecan-encrusted apple, as the case may be (thank you, Laura - I don't do nuts and wrote this too late at night!). Each apple is individually hand-dipped to create this massive treat.
The finished apples are allowed to harden and are then moved into production where they are boxed up as ordered. There are lots of different options from two apple displays to single apples to gift baskets fitted for the season.
Our tour guide for the day was Mike, who is the VP of marketing for Mrs. Prindable's. Say hi to the wonderful Mike who answered all our questions and graciously invited us on the tour. Here he's showing us the size of an Affy Tapple apple, which is a more normal size like what we'd see in grocery stores.
The Affy Tapple production starts with the apples going through a sorter. They get ready for the assembly line first.
You'll notice that there are a few apples in this cardboard box. These are the apples that are rejected. If they are too small, they will self-sort out in the first step and pop out here. When the sticks are being put in, the staff checks each apple, and any apple that doesn't feel right is placed on a track above them that also returns the apple to the reject box. These apples are then returned to the grower who sells them for juice. Yay - no waste.
Placing the sticks in the apples was pretty cool. Interestingly, the sticks went in through the bottom of the apple, which was counterintuitive for me. It make sense when you realize that the stem of the apple makes it easy for the stick to deflect off-center. Ah-ha!
The workers have a neat air pressure foot pump that they push that forces the stick perfectly into the apple each time.
The apples then move along the conveyor until they are lifted to the next step where they are officially turned into caramel apples.
This is another job that amazes me. This woman picks up each apple and accurately places its stick onto the holder for it to be dipped. In the time we watched, she never once missed a holder or skipped an apple. Picturing myself in that position, I saw the I Love Lucy episode with the chocolates.
Once on the holders, they are automatically dipped into the caramel vats and turned to remove the excess caramel.
From there, the apples are rolled in nuts before being placed on a conveyor where they are packaged. Before any package leaves the factory, they are scanned by a metal detector to ensure that there are no foreign objects in the product. I would never have thought of that detail.
Yum! Did I mention yum? While the Mrs. Prindable's products are not cheap, they are entirely worth it. I got my own triple chocolate apple to savor, as well as a package of chocolate, vanilla, and apple flavored caramels. I love how they come packaged, and each apple is wrapped in adequate bubble wrap to ensure there is no damage during shipping.
I fully intended to show you how thick the caramel and the chocolate was on the apple. Unfortunately, my camera battery died right about this point. And then my apple was ummm gone before the batteries recharged. Oops. Take my word for it that I weighed the apple and it was one pound, five ounces. And I don't think that was all apple!
The caramels were great, and it's a great product line expansion for them for when caramel apples aren't in "season." I shared some of these with some friends, as well as my husband who broke into the container and tried to sneak some without my knowing. Everyone who has tried them is a huge fan. Including me.
I forgot how good these apples were, but I remember now. And with the Mrs. Prindable's factory store located in Niles not too far from me, I have a feeling I'll be making some field trips there. Ordering online from Mrs. Prindable's or from QVC might also be happening soon, too. I think the wee ones' teachers and bus drivers and therapists would love receiving one of these for an end of year gift, don't you?
While I don't have a discount code to share with you (at least as of this writing), if you fan Mrs. Prindable's on Facebook, they have apple giveaways periodically. Did I mention yum yet?