2019 Update: Wertz continues to fill the air in downtown Lebanon PA with the sweet smell of caramel corn!
Original 2016 Post:
Vintage candy store, family owned and operated for 85 years, and still retaining its vintage look and charm?
Sounds Retro Roadmap-worthy in-and-of-itself.
But when said candy store is also the epicenter for a delicacy loved for generations by people from Lebanon county but almost unheard of anywhere else?
Wertz Candies in Lebanon, Pennsylvania is this confectionery, one of only a handful of places in the entire world that makes Opera Fudge and the biggest producer of this local treat.
Opened in 1931 by Bill Wertz, this tiny shop on Cumberland Street in downtown Lebanon is still family owned and run, by grandsons William, Richard and Charles. From the sidewalk you can often see them making their famous and delicious caramel corn right in the front window, as has been done for decades.
And those pretzels you see in that front window? In chatting with long-time employee Willow White, I learned that they sell them plain during most of the year (as a convenience, since Shuey's isn't open all the time) but at the holidays they cover the pretzels in chocolate, caramel or peanut butter. Mmm, that sounds delicious, doesn't it?
Entering the small space, the sugary smell and vintage light fixtures takes you right back in time. Gazing into the display cases you’ll see a wide assortment of handmade chocolates and caramels, many carefully hand wrapped in wax paper. Hard candies abound and decorative tins and gift boxes line the walls from floor to ceiling.
But what about the Opera Fudge?!
No one is quite sure where the name came from. A 2014 Reading Eagle article suggests it may have to do with the fact that the Fisher Opera House was located across the street from Wertz’s shop. Folks going to the show might have asked for this sweet treat to bring to the show with them. But nobody really knows for sure!
But while the origins of the name have been lost to time, we’re lucky that the Wertz family recipe for Opera Fudge remains. Cane sugar, heavy cream and pure vanilla is combined in small batches to create a creamy sweet fondant. Once hand kneaded and cooled it is hand cut into bite-sized pieces, then hand covered in liquid chocolate. (That's alotta hands!)
AND if you’re polite while asking about Opera Fudge they might just place a sample in your hand.
Trust me - you’ll be hooked after one bite, leaving with a box full that you will too easily devour and then immediately start dreaming about and planning your next visit to Lebanon.