Specialty food businesses give travelers a chance to indulge in, learn about and even make mouthwatering treats

Culinary experiences are often among the highlights of a group trip, and when tour members can get a peek at how things are made, the experience becomes extra-special. Some makers offer classes in the kitchen, providing hands-on fun with fresh insights on crafting the final product.

Here are some places that will add a tasty twist to your next tour in Virginia:

Ballerino Creamery in Staunton, Virginia

In an old creamery building that had not been used for milk processing in half a century, owner and head cheesemaker Louella Hill crafts a variety of fresh and ripened cheeses with milk from grass-fed cows. The stream running alongside the creamery is called Buttermilk Creek.

Tasting sessions encourage participants to discover how and why cheeses are so different from one another. The final tasting is accompanied by wines from Ox-Eye Vineyards.

Hill has taught hundreds of cheesemaking classes and has worked on dairy farms and in cheese factories in the U.S. and abroad. Her book on home cheesemaking, Kitchen Creamery, describes the process of transforming milk into cheese, yogurt and butter. (ballerinocreamery.com)

River-Sea Chocolate Factory in Virginia

River-Sea Chocolate Factory in Virginia is a delicious stop.

River-Sea Chocolate Factory in Virginia

Krissee and Mariano D’Aguiar started making chocolate in 2017 in northern Brazil and today operate a thriving bean-to-bar business.

Mariano grew up in a cacao-growing region of Brazil where the Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean, and is passionate about preserving the rainforest and its ecosystem. Eco-friendly practices and sourcing product from small cocoa farmers drive the couple’s business ethics. They work with producers from countries around the world, including Brazil, Nicaragua, Tanzania, India, Colombia, Vietnam, Thailand and Peru.

On the 60-minute Private Tasting Flight and Tour, group members get to sample five pieces of chocolate (milk, dark, white), observe the chocolate making process and learn how to do a proper tasting. In the Chocolate Bomb Making class (up to 10 persons), everyone gets to make four bombs using ingredients like marshmallow, fruit powders, sprinkles and spices. Another session involves pairing chocolates with wines. (riverseachocolates.com)

Cones made in Virginia at Doumars

Doumar’s in Norfolk stakes its claim to fame as being the home of the original waffle cone.

Doumar’s Barbecue and Cones in Norfolk

A beloved local institution in downtown Norfolk, Doumar’s stakes its claim to fame as being the home of the original waffle cone. The cones are made right before your eyes on the original four-iron waffle machine built in 1904.

Besides ice cream treats, Doumar’s sells hamburgers, hot dogs and North Carolina-style barbecue, offering both dine-in and curbside service. Limeades and orange freezes are other popular items.

Now in the fourth-generation of family ownership, Doumar’s has been at the same location since 1934. But its story starts with the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair when traveling salesman Abe Doumar, an immigrant from Syria, conceived the idea of putting ice cream in cones when an ice cream vendor there ran out of paper dishes, the primary way of selling ice cream to go. He bought a waffle from a waffle maker at the fair, rolled it into a cone and topped it with ice cream. Abe diplomatically proposed that the ice cream vendor and waffle salesman collaborate. For the rest of the fair, Abe sold ice cream in the world’s first waffle cones. He then built the four-iron machine and in 1905 started a string of ice cream shops on the East Coast, opening up in Norfolk in 1907. (doumars.com)

Lebanese Group Cooking Class in Virginia

Lebanese Group Cooking Class in Virginia

Arlington, Virginia Lebanese Taverna Market

This Lebanese-owned food and gift store offers cooking classes that include four or five recipe demonstrations and hands-on instruction. While learning about Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, participants enjoy tastings and Middle Eastern wines.

Featured foods might include chicken shawarma, artichoke and lamb stew, and tabbouleh (bulgur wheat, tomato, finely chopped parsley and other herbs). Guests likely will start with a typical Middle Eastern appetizer like hommus (ground chickpeas) or the creamier baba ganoush (made of roasted eggplant) with pita. The dessert could be baklava or Lebanese rice pudding with a hint of rose water.

The Lebanese Taverna Group, started by a Lebanese immigrant family in 1979, operates 12 locations in the Washington, D.C. area. (lebanesetaverna.com)

There’s still a plethora of places to experience tasty food in Virginia. If you’d like to get more ideas for where to eat in Virginia and beyond, just Subscribe to Leisure Group Travel Magazine for FREE

By Randy Mink