I have a confession to make. When I first saw an invitation in my inbox to take part in a “VIP ice cream experience” at Ben & Jerry’s HQ in Burlington, VT, I thought it was a prank. I mean, really? Taste-testing all the new flavors, meeting the Flavor Gurus behind all the tasty, frosty treats, and (gasp) even creating my own?! Pinch, pinch. Too good to be true.
Lucky for me (maybe not so lucky for my girlish figure), it wasn’t a prank at all. My wildest ice cream dreams were about to come true.
Joined by a scant dozen of fellow blogging cohorts, I arrived into fresh-aired Burlington, was greeted with a B&J goodie bag (can you say Pint Cozy?!), and braced myself for what was going to be an aggressively delicious next few days.
We arrived at the Waterbury Factory, nestled in the heart of the Green Mountains, and met veteran tour guide, John Hamerslough (Favorite Flavor: Dublin Mudslide). We watched the company history movie in the Cow Over the Moon theater, learned about how Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield became friends because they were “the two slowest, fattest kids in gym class,” got to observe the factory floor at work, and listened to employees talk about how this little Vermont scoop shop turned their sights on changing the world with Peace, Love, and Ice Cream.
ICE CREAM FOR BREAKFAST
Shortly after the factory tour, we were whisked into a conference room, and got down to business — the business of delighting our tastebuds with Ben & Jerry’s 2010 New Flavors:
- Boston Cream Pie: Boston Cream Pie Ice Cream with Yellow Cake Pieces, Fudge Flakes & Swirls of Pastry Cream
- Dulce Delish: Rich Caramel Ice Cream with Dark Caramel Swirls
- Mud Pie: Chocolate & Coffee Liqueur Ice Creams Swirled Together with a Chocolate Cookie Swirl
- Peanut Brittle: Peanut Brittle Ice Cream with Peanut Brittle Pieces & a Caramel Swirl
- Milk & Cookies: Vanilla Ice Cream with a Chocolate Cookie Swirl, Chocolate Chip & Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Hannah Teter’s Maple Blondie: Maple Ice Cream with Blonde Brownie Chunks & a Maple Caramel Swirl
- Flourless Chocolate Cake – Chocolate Ice Cream with pieces of Flourless Chocolate Cake and a Chocolate Frosting Swirl (currently available only at Walmart)
- Chocowlate Chip: Fair Trade Certified Vanilla Ice Cream with Fudge Cows (Scoop Shop only)
- Snickerdoodle Cookie: Buttery Ice Cream loaded with Snickerdoodle Cookies
Laure Lane (FF: Mint Chocolate Cookie) & Andre Ouellette (FF: Brownie Batter) from Quality Assurance showed us how they make sure each pint has just the right amount of chunks and swirls and even crosscut a sample pint for us to take a look.
And then we dug in.
I’m pretty excited to say that I think I’ve found myself a new favorite flavor! Milk & Cookies is the ultimate Cookies n’ Cream-lover’s fantasy. It’s a sweet cream vanilla base that is just riddled with cookie goodness. No digging around for the good chunks in this pint. They’re everywhere! It’s brilliant.
Hannah Teter’s Maple Blondie, named after VT’s very own Olympic medalist, snowboarding darling, was a sleeper hit. The maple ice cream isn’t too cloying; it tastes sweet and wholesome, with some badass chewy blondies to shake things up.
Peanut Brittle was also a pleasant surprise, with a base that tastes akin to salted caramel, and a nutty, brittle crunch. We learned later, after chatting with Marketing, that “Peanut Brittle” was almost called “Peanuts Envy”, which would have shifted this flavor up a few notches on the favorite scale, obviously.
And finally, after all the buzz on the food wire about the fabled limited edition Flourless Chocolate Cake, we finally got our grubby little blogger hands on a pint! If you are a dark chocolate lover, you will fall hard for this pretty young thing. It is beyond decadent. Rich rich dark chocolate ice cream, with chunks of flourless chocolate cake (similar to fudge brownie chunks, but less chewy, more like chilled truffle), and swirls of chocolate frosting throughout (swoon!). A little goes a long way with this flavor.
Along with the brand spanking new flavors, we also got to experience the awesomeness of what is known as ice cream “off the line.” Once you’ve tasted ice cream off the line, it’s hard to imagine anything better. It is freshly made, snagged from the factory line before it has a chance to make it to the deep freezer, and is exploding with glorious butterfat flavor. The consistency is like a super premium, melty, frozen custard Blizzard. It has inspired me to develop the willpower to let my ice cream sit out for a bit when I’m eating it at home…that, or remember to 10 second nuke it before scarfing.
THE FLAVOR GRAVEYARD
Before heading out, we made one last stop…to pay our respects.
Up the hill we trekked…
Through the misty gray…
To arrive at the site of The Flavor Graveyard, where the flavors of yesteryear lay.
This somber scene is where flavors who won our hearts (but not our pocketbooks) retire. Flavors like Makin’ Whoopie Pie (2002-2003) and Sugar Plum (1989-1990), may they R.I.P., are commemorated here. A flavor typically has 1 year to prove its worth. If it falls by the wayside as a bottom seller…to the Graveyard it goes…unless they rise from the dead, like Wavy Gravy, which was resurrected for a limited time due to popular demand.
BEN & JERRY’S HQ
As one would imagine, the Ben & Jerry’s HQ is pretty much a cross between a playground, a preschool, and a workplace for folks who play with ice cream for a living.
There’s a giant swirly slide — you know, in case you’re late for that meeting downstairs. A meeting in one of the flavor-inspired rooms of course, like the “Chubby Hubby Room” or the “Cookie Dough Room” – lots of importance stuff get settled in the “Cookie Dough Room”. There’s a nap room (from which meetings are expressly prohibited), The “Milky Way Room” (for new moms), and a break room that houses a huge freezer locker full of ice cream (all employees are allowed not 1, not 2, but 3 pints a day! Good thing they also get a free gym membership…).
We were put to work at Scoop U, the fully operational Scoop Shop they have onsite, where all franchise owners, managers, and retail employees are trained in the art of the Scoop.
We learned how to execute the 3-ounce scoop (Ben & Jerry’s standard 1 scoop serving) using the “L” Method. See, the ice cream in the shops come in these big rectangular boxes. A handy trick is to get the scoop just right so that it’s 1 oz. across the width of the box, 2 oz. down the length…resulting in a perfect 3 oz. scoop!
INSIDE THE R&D KITCHEN
And, of course, there’s the R&D Kitchen, where all the magic happens! My favorite part of the trip was meeting the Flavor Gurus behind it all! This trio of tie-dyed genius are responsible for wonders such as Cookie Dough Ice Cream (true story, Peter Lind, there on the left actually used to work at Rhino Bakery, where Ben & Jerry’s still sources all their cookie dough, and was at the forefront of figuring out how to move from hand-making the flavor to putting it in pints), Chubby Hubby, and all of this year’s new flavors.
We were invited to create our own flavors with the chefs!
I had been dreaming up my ultimate flavor for weeks…and had my heart set on an homage to SF, if you will: a Salted Caramel Ice Cream base, with Swirls of Fig Jam, and Chunks of Chewy Blondies. I even had a name for my masterpiece. Are you ready for it? “Can You Fig It?” I know, it could’ve been epic.
Alas, the ice cream gods were not smiling down upon me, and it was a bust. Not a fig was to be found in the Ben & Jerry’s R&D kitchen. Utter sadness. Mental note, next time, must bring own fig jam to the party. I’m not gonna lie, I’m tempted to purchase an ice cream maker just to actualize this fantasy of mine, because now I have a killer craving for something that only exists in my mind.
Since my hopes and dreams of flavor stardom were squashed, I regrouped and came up with Choc-Work Orange: a creamsicle-like base (comprised of the standard vanilla based pumped up with 8 milligrams of speckled vanilla and orange extract), copious amounts of chocolate cookie and brownie chunks, plus a fudge swirl.
Other inspired flavors created by fellow bloggers included a Lemon Drop-inspired number with a summery lemon cream base, raspberry swirl, and blondie chunks, as well as a Sweet and Spicy flavor with cinnamon ice cream, a pinch of ancho chile, maple blondie chunks, pecans, and caramel swirl.
Oh man, what an experience. I’ll be dreaming of chunks and swirls for days to come. If you found yourself in Ben & Jerry’s R&D Kitchen, what would you make?
A RISING TIDE RAISES ALL SHIPS
Other than the immense fun we had stuffing our bellies full of ice cream, playing with the Flavor Gurus, and running amuck, the underlying Goodness beneath it all is what ultimately made this trip to Ben & Jerry’s so memorable.
The company is well known for being fun and irreverent, but what it is truly built upon is its Social, Product, and Economic Mission of, quite simply, making the world a better place.
It is a company that was founded on the belief in Linked Prosperity. In 1982, when they needed to raise funding in order to expand operations, Ben and Jerry discovered a Stock Law which stated that you could be a broker in your own company if you sold shares to Vermonters only. The duo reached out to their neighbors and community members, and that equity offering allowed Ben & Jerry’s to build their Waterbury Factory.
Over the years, time and time again, Ben and Jerry found that the more they gave back, the more they received.
Today they are leaders in admirable missions involving social/economic/environmental sustainability and values-led sourcing, I could very well write a whole other post on the matter. Ben & Jerry’s is making waves in supporting:
- Fair Trade – they’re on track to fully convert to Fair Trade certified ingredients by the end of 2013
- Cage Free Eggs – by the end of 2010, all their eggs will be sourced entirely from Certified Humane cage-free farms
- rBGH-free milk & sustainable dairy programs with local farmers
- Cleaner, greener, freezers
- Business practices that change lives – check out the inspiring story of the Greyston Bakery, where all the brownies in flavors like Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Magic Brownie are sourced. Greyston provides employment and support services to former homeless, low-income and disenfranchised people. Thanks to just one product (brownies), the bakery went from employing 1 shift of 11 employees, to 2 shifts of 75 employees, to touching over 2,000 people through its various programs today.
Ben & Jerry’s: harbinger of something rare and mythical…like unicorn tears: conscious, caring, capitalism.
Oh, and yes, we got to meet Jerry, himself! His favorite flavor of the moment is Hannah Teter’s Maple Blondie.
Fun Flavor Facts:
- Stephen Colbert’s AmeriCone Dream, made with nutty waffle cone pieces, almost never made it – Colbert took issue with the flavor (“That doesn’t work for my character…I don’t waffle.”)
- Snoop Dog keeps calling for his own flavor. Gin N’ Juice, anyone?
- In honor of the Simpsons movie premier, Duff & D’oh-Nuts was created – comprised of chocolate and cream stout ice creams with chunks of glazed chocolate doughnuts.
- Ben & Jerry’s have been known to wear their political views on their pint sleeves, and in September 2009, renamed Chubby Hubby to Hubby Hubby for the month to celebrate the freedom to marry.
- A few failed flavors that never made it out of the R&D Kitchen? Coconut Curry and Chips n’ Dip, which featured an onion ice cream flavor.
- On April 19th (Patriots Day in Boston), Ben & Jerry’s will be giving away free samples of their new Boston Cream Pie flavor in three of their Boston Scoop Shops (Prudential Center, Newbury Street shop, & Park Plaza Shop) from 10am to 12pm, while supplies last. The ice cream is coming, the ice cream is coming!
Serious Eats – “Ben and Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard”
NOTCOT – “Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard”
On Second Scoop – multiple posts on the pilgrimage
GrubGrade – “Checking-In from Vermont…”
Guardian.co.uk, The Observer – “Sold Up but Not Sold Out…”
GiGi Reviews – “Gigi Goes to Ben & Jerry’s”
Bitchin’ Kitchen/Bitchin’ Lifestyle – “On Location At Ben & Jerry’s”
Lemondrop – “Ice Cream Confidential – How A New Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Is Born”