There are several different fudge companies on Mackinac: Ryba's, Joann's, May's, Murdick's, Murray's, and Sanders, which you've already heard about. It's a Michigan-wide company, although I've never seen fudge at their stores down here, and the other ones are all home grown on Mackinac. We didn't try Murray's because my parents said the last time they were up there it was terrible. I figured, no problem skipping out on bad fudge.
There are several possible problems with fudge. It can be too dry, too sugary, or too grainy. Naturally the fudge will dry out if it isn't kept properly covered after you buy it, so you have to rewrap and store it carefully. It's made on marble slabs in the store. The hot fudge is poured out on the marble slab and then the bakers scoop it up and fold it over, building it up into a long brick until it cools and holds its form. Then it is cut into slices, which you can have cut in half again when you buy it so that you can try multiple flavors. Most stores will require you to buy two halves to fill up a box. The fudge stores all sell other candy items as well - caramel corn, regular popcorn, usually ice cream, homemade candies, peanut brittle, etc.
So, here are my reviews of fudge, from worst to best:
Murdick's fell into the "too grainy" trap. We got peanut butter chocolate chip (on the left) and double dark chocolate. The double dark chocolate wasn't chocolate-y enough, and in addition both were a little dry. The chocolate chips in the peanut butter one didn't melt enough so they were kind of hard (they're only in the very center of the slice so you can't see them very well in this picture). Murdick's is probably not worth the trip if this is their typical standard of product.
May's claims to be "the family that made fudge famous." The first problem with May's is that they wouldn't cut the slabs of fudge in half so that we could try a couple of flavors. That was annoying. Their fudge was not at all dry, very soft and fudgey, but the chocolate peanut butter flavor that we tried was more caramel flavored than chocolate flavored.
The next three I have a hard time ranking in any order because they were all so delicious! It's impossible to choose between them!
We got the peppermint patty flavor. WOW. Creamy, fudgey, delicious flavor - a definite must-have if you find yourself on the island! Sanders features all kinds of other unusual flavors that are a depart from the typical chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, vanilla walnut, etc.
On the top left is chocolate peanut butter, bottom left is cherry coke, the bottom right is cherry vanilla swirl or something like that, and the top left I'm not sure.
Chocolate raspberry (which we tried a sample of and was also DELISH) on the top left, mocha cafe on the bottom left, German chocolate on the bottom right, and vanilla pecan on the top right.
Joann's wins the prize for cutest store. Unfortunately my photo didn't turn out very well, but I think you can get the idea, and you can see my parents in the picture!
And I got a nice picture of the guy cutting the fudge slabs. The other great thing about Joann's is that they'll give you any warm, melty scraps if they're available when you walk in. YUM!
Joann's also has some pretty unusual flavors:
The labels are pretty easy to read on this picture.
Here on the top shelf we have double dark something with nuts, double dark without nuts, and raspberry truffle. They also have rocky road, kahlua, butterfinger, and several sugar-free selections. We ended up getting the double dark chocolate (had a warm, gooey sample and just couldn't resist!):
And chocolate cherry and maple. Joann's was the only shop where they had plain maple and didn't require you to buy maple walnut, which is a double whammy for me. Not only do I not like nuts, but since my transplant I've developed an allergy to walnuts!
Joann's is creamy, soft, and delicious. Not grainy, not too sweet, really good flavor of everything, but the double dark chocolate was especially fantastic, much better than Murdick's.
Ryba's is practically an empire and owns half the downtown area! Their characteristic pink and brown logo and awnings are all over. They have at least four fudge shops, two bicycle rental shops, and a breakfast restaurant!
Ryba's also had delicious, soft, not at all grainy fudge. We tried the gourmet oreo cookie flavor and the chocolate peanut butter, which was much richer and more chocolatey than May's.
Of course I had to try the ice cream too! Most places carry a brand called House of Flavors, which is made in Ludington, MI, on the coast of Lake Michigan. The ice cream was fantastic! I tried three flavors while we were there: cookies and cream, black cherry, and peanut butter Mackinac Island fudge. All were superbly creamy but not too rich, had a really good flavor, and weren't too heavy either, they didn't sit like a rock in my stomach like ice cream sometimes can. The standout winner was the peanut butter Mackinac Island fudge, which had little pieces of fudge mixed in with ribbons of caramel and peanut butter in vanilla ice cream. It was AMAZING. I would go all the way there just to get this flavor again! It isn't actually listed on their website and I have no idea why, because it's amazing. AMAZING.
As a side note, a lot of the fudge places list flavors on their websites that I did not see in the stores, so I don't know if those are premium flavors that they make on request or for special occasions or what. Also, what's with all the nuts in the fudge? I'm going to sue them for discrimination against people with nut allergies!