AVERY ISLAND, La. – This spot in Louisiana Cajun country is famous the world over for little bottles of a spicy red sauce. Of course, it’s Tabasco sauce, and 2018 is a major anniversary year — 150 years of spicing up the world.
It all began when Edmund McIlhenny wanted to spice up the bland food of the 1860s Reconstruction South, so he began growing chili peppers from Mexico. Five McIlhenny generations later, the manufacturing process is largely the same (one wrinkle now is a link between Tabasco and Tennessee’s Jack Daniel’s whiskey, whose barrels are part of the process), and several variations of the original red sauce have emerged.
For a century and a half, the McIlhenny family has been setting people’s mouths on fire – at least figuratively – and you can join the celebration various ways when you visit.
You may catch a whiff of the famous red liquid as you tour the grounds where it is made. A 10-stop self-guided tour includes a greenhouse, a barrel warehouse, and the factory building, and the Tabasco Country Store. A sprawling garden/bird sanctuary add to the attraction.
You can sample green jalapeno, chipotle, Buffalo-style, habanero, sriracha, and other varieties at the country store, and buy them in gallon jugs if you desire. There’s also a Tabasco ice cream to try, plus hats, shirts, and quite artistic neckties.
An on-site restaurant offers a cooking class led by Chef Lionel Robin that includes a four-course lunch, and there’s an off-site Cajun food tour that takes you to six eateries in the region. Come hungry for those activities.
In addition to the spicy delights of Tabasco, there is an attraction that puts Mother Nature on display in fine fashion. It is Jungle Gardens and Bird City, a 170-acre semitropical site along Bayou Petit Anse.
This is an egret rookery, and you can see thousands upon thousands of snowy egrets that call it home. Also be on the lookout for deer and the denizens of Louisiana’s swamps, alligators. Avery Island is just 10 miles from New Iberia and 30 miles from Lafayette, two of Cajun country’s most popular towns.