Mackinac Island is straight out of a story book. Almost entirely within a Michigan state park, there are no motorized vehicles on the 3.8-square-mile island. You’ll instantly notice this upon stepping onto its pier where bikes and horse-drawn carriages fill the “parking lot.” The island is between Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas in Lake Huron. Native Americans originally named this place Michilimackinac, which loosely translates to “big turtle.” There’s a turtle of the confectionary kind, along with nearly 20 different kinds of fudge, at Ryba’s Fudge Shops on Main Street.
Ryba’s has been in business since 1936 when Harry Ryba opened his first sweet shop on the east side of Detroit, Mich. He and his son-in-law, Victor Callewaert, brought the first Ryba’s Fudge Shop to the island in 1960.
Mackinac Island, the “Fudge Capital of the World,” boasts no less than 13 fudge stores. According to the island’s tourism bureau, up to five tons of fudge are produced daily during the high of the summer tourist season.
Thanks to the vintage pink and brown logo, you can’t miss Ryba’s three Main Street shops. If the aroma of cooking fudge that’s fanned onto the streets doesn’t hook you, the sight of candies being made in the storefront windows will. Terry Spengler, one of Ryba’s master fudge makers, is seen most days in those windows perfecting each 13- to 15-pound batch of fudge at a time.
He measures the ingredients in the back of the shop, which are then cooked in a large copper kettle. Once it reaches what he calls “the sweet spot” of 120 degrees, it’s dumped out on one of four Italian marble slabs.
“You can’t afford to mess up because when you’re dumping boiling hot fudge, you’ve got to bring your A-game every day,” says Spengler.
He calls out “irons,” and folks step aside to let him go to work. Irons are what keep the molten candy from rolling off the table. He moves the chocolate around the cool slabs with paddles resembling tools much like those used by drywall installers. But, there’s nothing dry about this creamy delicacy.