Ben and Jerry have been making a lot of news lately.
First there was their new Flourless Chocolate Cake flavor
-- sold only at Super Walmart -- which had the foodie crew all up in arms since none of them lived near one. Then they leaked the release of another new flavor: Bonnaroo Buzz
-- a mix of light coffee, malt ice cream, English toffee bits, and whiskey caramel swirls.
Hey. A flavor catering to boozehounds!
Having logged a lot of late-night hours with their pints, when invited, I leapt at the chance to visit headquarters -- and shake the hand of the man who graced the world with Chubby Hubby. Better yet, once there, I found out I'd have the opportunity to make sweet, sweet ice cream with him, too.
It was everything my inner chocoholic, sweet-tooth laden self could have imagined. But what flavor to create!?A Pint-Size Tasting Party
The day began with a tasting at the factory in Waterbury, Vermont. Pint after pint of gooey soft serve ice cream was served directly off the line (aka, before it went into the freezer) and passed around the room. The new flavors we sampled included Milk & Cookies, Dulce Delish, Mud Pie, Boston Cream Pie, Peanut Brittle, and my favorite, a special limited batch of maple-caramel ice cream called Hannah Teter's Maple Blondie, in a nod to the gold-medal winning Olympian
After downing what felt like (and probably was) several pounds of ice cream, I glanced at the clock. It was only 10:34 a.m., and this breakfast of champions was only the first stop on a complete tour of all things Ben & Jerry's -- including creating my own, custom flavor. I took a moment to check in with my gut, and we made an executive decision that lunch and dinner would be unnecessary. Hey, it's not every day that I get the opportunity to stuff my face full of caramel and cookie bits and call it work.
Meeting My Guru
After a comprehensive tour of HQ in Burlington, I stood before Eric, Peter and John -- three of the six Ben & Jerry's Flavor Gurus – and felt my taste buds soar with the promise of customized deliciousness.
Fittingly, they all wore tie-dye lab coats and explained they'd each received formal training in the culinary arts. It also seemed like they were all lifers: Peter had been working with Ben & Jerry's for 22 years, Eric for 13, and John for 12. I was awed to be standing in the midst of the dudes who brought us Cookie Dough, even if their uniforms made them look more like a very cheerful version of the Grateful Dead. I could forgive these guys anything -- I just wished I'd brought them a gift to say thanks for all the late-night binges, lady-cramps relief and post-breakup pig-outs.
We split off to brainstorm ideas for our very own flavors. Before us the Gurus set out a tray with 13 ingredients, ranging from cookie and chocolate pieces to brownie chunks, like a culinary arts and crafts party. Say I wanted something that wasn't there? No problem, said the gurus, it was probably tucked away somewhere in their spotless kitchen and they could produce it at once. But I decided to start simple: A vanilla base. Don't worry, I had a twist in mind!
Pimpin' My Flavor
Of lemon, that is: After all, I was here on behalf on Lemondrop. Next I asked Peter to help me concoct a lemon-infused batter. Using the best lemon extract I've ever smelled, he slowly pipetted out half-milliliters, then added some fair trade vanilla, until my fledgling flavor smelled like the world's yummiest lemon bar -- and tasted even better.
What we were after, said Peter, was a nice floral aroma that wasn't too overpowering. I nodded, he added some raspberry puree (to counter the sweetness, natch), and -- it tasted freaking awesome.
Then he poured it down the hatch of the ice cream machine, for "processing," which I took to mean, the alchemical process during which Ben & Jerry's works its magic. That took about ten minutes. The batter emerged from processing smooth, then -- with me pretending I knew how to disperse them evenly and professionally -- we added some blonde brownie chunks to the bowl, giving my flavor that telltale yummy texture. I christened it Lemondrop Blondie Brownie ice cream, and promptly crossed "Invent A Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Of My Own" off my bucket list.
"This flavor definitely has commercial appeal," said Peter with a smile. I wasn't sure if he was being serious, but, indulging myself one last time, I decided to believe he was.
Blair is a blogger living in Brooklyn who remembers her first taste of Half Baked more passionately -- and much more fondly -- than her first kiss.
More on Lemondrop:
The $25,000 PB&J Recipe