WATERBURY, Vt. - In last Sunday's column I was having ice cream with the elementary school children back home in Hudson, Mich. Today I am on a tour of Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory in Vermont. You could say I am on an ice cream roll, and so is my stomach. But the cool cream in almost any flavor is not just refreshing. If you get to the bottom of the cone and consider ice cream as a tranquilizer that relieves stress, the calories will disappear. Then you can have two dips.
I certainly couldn't argue with the folks who say the Ben and Jerry's tour is the leading tourist attraction in Vermont. It is open year around and 200,000 of the 300,000 annual visitors are there from May through October. It certainly was packed the day I stopped on my way to Stowe, which is about 20 minutes from the factory on Highway 100 and about a half-hour from the Burlington airport.
Everybody talks about the free ice cream cone at the end of the tour. But how free is it when the tour admission is $3? Besides, it's not a cone, but a small scoop of ice cream in a paper cup. But the 50 or so of us - mostly teenagers - on the tour lapped up the Dublin Mudslide scoops and stepped up for the leftovers that were offered.
Dublin Mudslide was the "give away" flavor that day. I didn't realize there were mudslides in Dublin, but the ice cream was a dark, lumpy chocolate to represent mud.
The ice cream is noted for the high butterfat content and the fact that the product is made in the Green Mountain state, where Holstein cows graze on green pastures and produce rich milk. Plus, names given Ben and Jerry flavors are fun.
I am bringing home a bumper sticker that reads "If it isn't fun, why do it?" That's the motto that has been associated with Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield ever since they churned the first batch of ice cream in an abandoned gas station in Burlington, Vt., in 1978. Although the company is now owned by Dutch-English conglomerate Unilever, the motto is still used in promotions. The Free Day that the founders began on their first anniversary is also still observed every March at all Ben and Jerry's outlets.
The best friends story is as humorous as it is one of those "only in America" success tales. Because Ben and Jerry's had a better ring to it than Jerry and Ben's, Jerry, in second place in the name, got to be president of the company and Ben was vice president. The two became friends in seventh grade gym class when, they have reported, they were the fat kids who couldn't run a mile in seven minutes.
Even though Jerry studied pre-med at Oberlin College and Ben also had a share of college courses, they agreed they wanted to do something different to be their own bosses. Would it be bagels or ice cream, their favorite foods? A delivery service, United Bagel Service, was in the hopper until they learned the high cost of bagel-making equipment.
Ice cream won, and I personally am glad, as are millions of other people who can now buy the product throughout the world.
The factory tour includes a film that covers the company's beginning and an opportunity to watch the production through a glass wall where 200,000 pints are made daily. It's a toss-up whether the gift shop with the company logo on everything imaginable is more popular or the outdoor scoop cream shop where guests order and pay $2 a dip from a giant menu of flavors.
New flavors include Black and Tan with a beer flavor through the addition of hops, a strawberry and kiwi swirl, Turtle Soup, and Jamaican Me Crazy, with chunky pineapple and passion fruit.
The appropriate last stop on the tour is at the cemetery, where markers denote failed and discontinued flavors. According to our guide, the flavor that only lasted three weeks in supermarkets was Sugar Plum, plum chunks with a caramel swirl. Other flavors in the cemetery are peanut butter and jelly, Holy Canoli, Pistachio, and Popcorn and Caramel.