Vermont. Freedom and Unity, or so the state motto goes. Lots of forest, greenery and hills. Maple syrup galore, and New England at its finest. But what is more, it is home to one famous ice cream brand.
After seemingly endless stretches of straight road in Ontario and Quebec, and landscapes, though beautiful, but flat as a pancake, it was a welcome change of scenery that greeted us across the US-Canadian border. Rolling green hills and lots of forest as far as the eye could see. Having passed the border, I set out to program our GPS for our final destination for the day: Portland, Maine. We still had 6 hours of driving ahead of us, and had taken the advice of our friends to break up our journey with one of Vermont’s star attractions, perfect for an hour-long stop to recharge the batteries: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury, VT.
Feeling lucky, I instructed our GPS to find Ben & Jerry as a waypoint, and lo and behold, it actually knew what I was talking about! A few hours later we rolled up to the huge parking lot just outside the small town of Waterbury. A little apprehensive about hyperactive kids on a sugar rush, we approached the factory’s visitor centre. You could hardly miss it, with cow signposts pointing the way to ice cream nirvana.
On entering the visitor centre, all our senses were immediately taken hostage by all the colourful displays, excited babble and laughter, and of course, the smell of sugar and cream. Not that there were waiters running around with copious amounts of free ice cream samples as I had secretly pictured. What awaited was a huge gift shop that was painted like a pre-school playroom, and tons of informative panels on the walls, explaining the history and philosophy of Ben & Jerry’s as a company. It was all a bit over the top and overwhelming for the (European) senses, but still surprisingly pleasant.
We decided to take the factory tour for $3 a pop which promised 30 minutes of induction into the philosophy of the company, a tour of their facilities and, finally, a free sample of their flavour of the day.
The tour was led by an enthusiastic student from a nearby university. She had only started her job 2 days prior but had excellent knowledge of the company’s operations. Her commentary was actually hilarious although you could tell she probably did this a dozen times every day.
The tour begins with the group being seated in Ben and Jerry’s very own little movie theatre to watch a movie on the origins of the company. Visitors are surprised to find that the company’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, started their operations in 1977 after having completed a correspondence course in ice cream making. The film goes on to explain how the ice cream parlor that started out in a renovated gas station in the town of Burlington, VT, became one of the world’s most-recognised ice cream brands, including their philosophy of “free cone day”.
The tour continued with the visitors being led through the production parts of the factory, where you can look down into the factory hall where the ice cream is actually produced and packaged. More films were being shown with informative commentary on facts and figures on the production and distribution of the many flavours of ice cream.
And finally, the tour ended with the most anticipated part of anyone’s visit: a free ice cream tasting in the tasting room. Visitors were served a generous scoop of the ice cream flavour that is being produced on that day. When I read the flavour of the day on the tasting room fridge, my heart sank. “Vanilla bean ice cream with a salty caramel swirl and fudge-covered potato chip clusters.” I thought it couldn’t possibly get any more disgusting than this. Who would put potato crisps together with chocolate and ice cream? Well, Ben & Jerry would.
I am not sure it will make the top 10 flavours of all time, but boy was I wrong in my premature judgement. The flavour was aptly named “Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack”, and in hindsight, I think it’s ingenious. This is exactly what you want to eat when you’ve got the munchies and cannot make up your mind between sweet and salty treats. Just try this ice cream and you’d be surprised how tasty it is!
Even if a flavour doesn’t find approval in the mass market and its production is discontinued, it certainly won’t be forgotten. Ben & Jerry’s has a special place for every ice cream flavour they ever created – it’s either the hall of fame, or the flavour graveyard!
If you are ever on a road trip through New England, I’d recommend you stop at Ben & Jerry’s. It’s quite an experience, both visually and for the taste buds, and you’re guaranteed an entertaining break on your long drive through beautiful Vermont.
Would you take part in Ben & Jerry’s factory tour?