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Cache and carry

The scene would have tickled Norman Rockwell:

Three boys in summer attire - sneakers, knee-length denim shorts and T-shirts - stepped shyly into the Bluebird Candy Co. on Logan's Center Street, sniffed the sweet, tantalizing atmosphere and leaned in wonder against the glass counter.Arrayed just beyond their reach were tempting dollops of chocolate and pellets, balls and canes of candy.

Nathan, 10, was the oldest - and the most decisive. Coins were burning holes in his pockets.

"Can I have one of those caramel mint things and a mint chocolate?" he asked Donna Bennett. She complied, weighing, bagging and ringing the register.

Nathan's little brother Aaron, 7 1/2, and their cousin Christopher, 8 1/2, needed more time. Much more. They consulted in whispers, their noses pressed against the glass. Decisions decisions!

"It's almost as hard as spending your egg, which is what my grandmother used to give me when I went to the store," said my mother, Phyllis, sitting and sympathetically grinning nearby.

Nathan tried to push things along:

"Look! There's these and there's these and there's these!" he said, pointing to colorful treats.

Aaron trickled change from a marble bag. He'd settled upon a giant jawbreaker and 20 cents - no, make that 5 cents, he told Bennett - of jelly beans. She complied and the boys happily headed out the door.

"A lot of little kids come in, especially in the summer," Bennett said. Patience is vital. "They'll say, `I want 5 cents of this and 10 cents of this.' "

But the shop - with a candy-making factory at the back - appeals to kids of all ages, and all tastes.

"We have three men who come in every morning and get a Coke and some candy," Bennett noted. "They say it gets their livers started."

Mom and I had driven to Logan for lunch and to stop by a few of Cache County's food factories and outlets. We had fun wandering place to place, taste-testing and filling an ice chest and the car's back seat with small bags and boxes.

By the time we were through, you'd have thought we had just been to the neighborhood su-per-mar-ket.

Our first stop was the Logan Convention and Visitors Bureau at 160 N. Main. Mom stepped into the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum there to take a gander at the quilts, artifacts and relics and to chat with the friendly guides. I walked to the front counter to ask if there was a printout or brochure about possible stops on a Cache Val-ley food tour.

There is. It's titled "Eat your way through Bridgerland" and lists several businesses, from cheese factories to Bear Lake area raspberry farms.

Bridgerland wants to entice people from the Wasatch Front over the mountain passes into the Cache Valley and beyond.

Not that some folks need much encouraging.

"I've seen people come up to the cheese factory with coolers on Saturdays and load up because the cheese is so cheap there," said Maridene Alexander, Bridgerland Travel Region director. Others make regular stops at the Pepperidge Farm store in Richmond for the same reason.

That gave the tourism bureau an idea: Provide residents and visitors with an itinerary, a list of places to go - linking various food factories and stores together - and turn it into a getaway or day-trip option.

With the bureau's printout in hand, we headed out, ready to test our "taste" for adventure. This is what we did:

- The Bluebird Restaurant. Because noon was fast approaching, we made this renowned cafe, at 19 N. Main, our first stop. Slip through the door (lettering on the glass says "The Bluebird's Nest") and you step back in time.

Built in 1914, the walls are paneled with dark wood. A marble soda fountain counter is on your right, while a display brimming with candy is on your left. A seating area at the back is nearly surrounded by a three-wall mural tracing Logan's history (with prominent display given the evolving Bluebird) from the days of Indians and settlers to the space age.

We ordered the soup of the day, Pepperpot - a spicy vegetable and beef mix - and sliced turkey on fresh croissants. The servings proved generous and the food was fresh and tasty.

We tried to leave space, though, for more afternoon nibbling.

On the way out we had to look over the candy, including taffy, gum balls, flavored sticks (from sour apple to cherry cola) and a variety of chocolates. The chocolates come from Alvey's in nearby Richmond, not from the similarly named Bluebird Candy Co. around the corner. The two Bluebirds were once one, but that's no longer the case, said Candice Kennington at the register.

The most popular item for sale is the Aggie Bar, she said - whole Brazilnuts bathed in caramel, a Logan tradition from way back.

- The Bluebird Candy Co. As noted above, the candy factory at 75 W. Center is a delectable place to even walk into.

Donna Bennett was working the counter at the front of the store. The Bluebird, she said, specializes in hand-dipped chocolates (two women visible in the back were busy making a fresh batch), carmelcorn, pecan rolls and the O'Aggie Bar (sound familiar?), a Brazilnut smothered in chocolate.

The store (there's another outlet on 400 North) also sells its tempting products by weight and in gift assortments in boxes ranging in price up to $50.75.

"Do you ever get immune to all this candy?" Mom asked Bennett.

"Oh no, I piece on it here and there all the time," she replied.

- Aggie Ice Cream. "Aggies," of course, are the students and sports teams at Logan's Utah State University, once an agricultural college. And Aggie Ice Cream, produced at USU's dairy sciences building, is one of the valley's must-stops.

At the front of the USU Nutrition and Food Science Building, 750 N. 1200 East, is a take-out counter offering sandwiches, sundaes and ice cream cones, as well as ice cream in blue-and-white half-gallon cartons. There are 16 flavors, from vanilla and chocolate to bubble gum and peaches and cream.

During our visit, the place was busy serving young couples and moms leading lines of girls and toddlers out for an early afternoon summer excursion.

Mom and I both tried the chocolate almond ice cream. It tried to melt quickly, but our tongues were quicker.

- Gossner Foods Inc. A producer of Swiss cheese and other dairy products marketed around the world, Gossner's factory and outlet store are on Logan's west side, at 1000 W. 1000 North.

The company prepares a variety of cheeses - cheddar and mozzarella as well as Swiss, sliced, shredded and loafed - and a line of shelf-stable milk that can be stored at room temperature. These also come in a variety of flavors, including mango, banana and strawberry.

Samples of some products are set up for visitors to taste, and the cheese-making area - an array of stainless-steel vats, tubes and tables - is visible through large windows to one side of the store.

We left with a couple of small bags of smoke-flavored cheese curds.

It's so hard to stop nibbling on these chewy, tooth-squeaking things when driving along. They're as bad as candy.

- Pepperidge Farm Factory. The Pepperidge Farm thrift store at 901 N. 200 West in Richmond, north of Logan on U.S. 89-91, has great discounts on its quality pastries and crackers - if you don't count the mileage from Salt Lake City.

The outlet may not be a suitable stop for dieters . . . but for the rest of us (who long ago fell off the wagon) there are crunchy Pepperidge goldfish, "flavor-blasted crackers"; stuffing mixes; layered cakes; and mouth-watering shelves of cookies in various marketing categories: "Old-fashioned," "Classic," "Distinctive" and the International "Selection de Choix" - i.e., sugar cookies, gingerman cookies, chessmen, Milanos, macadamia nut and raisin.

The store isn't fancy, and some of its products are off limits to those of us who just pop in (these are marked "for employees only"), but it is a vault of temptations.

- Cox Honeyland. The Cox family, which has been harvesting honey for generations, has spread its wings a little with an outlet store-bee boutique southwest of Logan, at 1780 S. Highway 89-91.

"Utah's gourmet honey specialists," it says on the sign over the small store.

Passersby and tourists find honey bottled for practical purposes and in gift sizes and baskets, including creamed honeys, honey-butter, honeyberry syrup and honey caramel popcorn.

"The popcorn is a big hit with the bus tours," said Michelle Spuhler, daughter of the company's operators, Duane and Margene Cox. She'd just prepared a fresh batch and was offering samples.

Cox Honey's gift line is offered through hotels and at airports, Spuhler said, and its products are found in stores like Macey's, Fred Meyer and Wild Oats.

Mom and I had made the rounds. We contemplated heading into Logan Canyon and over to Bear Lake - land of raspberries and raspberry ice cream. But instead, we headed west and north, through Wellsville and Mendon toward Idaho.

"It sure is a nice day to visit the valley," Mom had said earlier in the day as we'd driven among the farm fields and through the historic communities. "It's so green and cool."