It’s easy to imagine that if the ancient Israelites had been familiar with the cocoa bean, God might have promised them a land flowing with milk and chocolate. He didn’t, but such a land does exist. In the English city of Birmingham, a 90-minute train ride from London, Cadbury—the company that popularized modern British milk chocolate—welcomes half a million visitors a year who come to pay homage to Cadbury World. And if you are kosher observant and accustomed to foodie travel attractions where you can look but can’t taste, you should rejoice—the London Beth Din regards almost all products made by Cadbury as kosher.
Non-Brits may not grasp just how big Cadbury is—as a cultural institution as well as a brand. But you’ll quickly get the hang of it at their huge visitor center. In addition to the main exhibition, there’s an outdoor children’s play area with climbing zones, tube slides and tunnels, a separate area at a lower level for the under-5s, and a multimedia show. The show consists of two five-minute features during which you meet the earnest Quakers who set up the company back in 1824, after which you get to create your own chocolate, with melted Cadbury chocolate and fillings.
A visit to Cadbury World can take up to three hours, but it is so well choreographed that time flies by. It isn’t an “exhibition” in the conventional sense, but rather a mixture of displays, acted sketches, 3-D multimedia presentations, demonstrations of the production process, and of course, tastings. Yet you do learn a lot—in fact, Cadbury World was one of the first institutions in the UK to be awarded the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge, recognizing it as a provider of quality, safely managed educational experiences for young people.
For those of us used to family outings where different people circulate at different speeds and everyone loses each other, Cadbury World is brilliant. As you go past various junctures, such as the shows, in batches of around 50 people, you are constantly synchronized with your party. The various components of the experience have been designed to hold the attention of the very young while stimulating the grown-ups. There was a 70-year age span in my family group, and both granddad and toddler daughter loved every minute.
The exhibition begins with a series of 3-D stages where miniature figures give you short snippets of the history of chocolate. You find out about “chocolate houses” where grown men (women and children were barred) used to gather to drink hot chocolate and gamble, and you meet an actress who recreates the atmosphere of these dens of sugary indulgence. Then an actor introduces the members of the Cadbury family who established the company and made it great. They tell their story of how their chocolate is made through a series of presentations, one of them featuring seats that move as the cocoa breaks are shaken. You find out how specific Cadbury lines are made, and you make your way through a packaging plant to an area where you can watch the production of one of the company’s premium handmade products.
The place really does flow with chocolate—a kilometer of piping on the ceiling takes it around. And even after nearly three hours, the kids are still on a high—not just because of their pockets full of samples or the cup of liquid chocolate (the day’s second), but because the whole trip ends with an adorable ride, Cadabra, which takes you on little carriages through a world in which cute cocoa beans are engaged in all sorts of activities, including skiing.
I always dreamed of visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. This was definitely the next best thing.
While most products distributed at Cadbury World are kosher, some are not. The London Beth Din’s listing of kosher Cadbury products can be found at www.kosher.org.uk.
By Nathan Jeffay/JNS.org