Holy Smoked!! Feast Portland’s newest event is also probably its best event.
Now that it's been four whole days since the end of Feast Portland, I've digested (ha!) it all and I think I'm ready to make a big verdict.
About a month ago I got an email that REALLY surprised me. It was inviting me to come visit the Ben and Jerry’s HQ in Vermont! Of course I was excited to go. I had to do some funny schedule-finagling, but I was so excited to be part of this trip!
I flew out to Burlington, Vermont on April 1, along with 14 or 15 other bloggers, journalists and website runners. Our tour of the fabulous office and factories would start the next day, but we were greeted with some pretty cool gifts in our hotel room – did you know that pint locks exist? It’s the ice cream security I never knew I needed… until now:
The next day, we spent a lot of time learning about Ben and Jerry’s at their central office. Guess what the decor theme was!
We spoke to their head marketers about their social and online campaigns. We talked to the CEO about their farming and fair trade standards. I really loved learning about their Caring Dairy program, which is how they help their dairy farmer partners self-evaluate and make their businesses better for them, their employees and the earth.
We got to visit the R&D department to learn about developing ice cream flavors. And, we got to meet Jerry himself!
This food geek was pretty excited for that.
For me, the coolest thing about the trip was getting to learn about the agriculture aspect of the organization. Ben and Jerry’s is working toward being fully Fair Trade-certified by the end of 2013.
After we had finished talking to many of the department heads, we were off to Scoop U, which is their in-house ice cream shop where visitors, franchisors and employees can learn to scoop ice cream properly. It is also a functioning ice cream shop that employees can buy from anytime – if they can handle the steep prices 😉
To scoop a 3 oz ball of ice cream (a small cup/cone), we were instructed to scoop along two sides of the bin:
Our lovely instructor also taught us how to make waffle cones, which are possibly the most delightful-smelling confections on the planet.
Yeah, I totally made that! It wasn’t as hard as I thought.
After we learned about scooping, we had a little surprise – they announced over the PA – TO THE ENTIRE OFFICE – that the scoop shop was open and free. It was up to us to scoop for them (and there were at least 50). It was actually really fun – if my other career options don’t work out, I would probably be ok scooping ice cream.
On Day 2 of the trip, we headed out to the factory itself, and learned a ton of cool stuff.
DID YOU KNOW, for example, that Ben and Jerry’s has a special machine specifically for splitting pints into quarters, so as to better examine the distribution of swirls and chunks?
Don’t worry – though many pints were brutally split into quarters during this visit, after we examined their contents, well, we ate them.
We got to compare pints of Ben and Jerry’s with pints of competitors. Sometimes the difference was pretty stark.
I like this example – it’s a pint of Liz Lemon frozen Greek yogurt (which is TASTY):
Check out that symmetry! Pretty cool, huh? We got to try MANY flavors of ice cream on this trip – not including competitors, I am pretty sure I tasted 17 – Pineapple Passionfruit Greek Yogurt, Liz Lemon, Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz, Chocolate Peppermint Crunch, Mint Chocolate Cookie, Cookies & Milk, 7 Layer Coconut Bar, Cherry Garcia, Cookie Dough, Americone Dream, Banana Split, Pistachio Pistachio, Strawberry Cheesecake, Chocolate Therapy, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Cookies & Cream and Razzleberry.
This is a comparison between Ben and Jerry’s and a competitor’s pistachio flavors. Both had pretty good distribution of chunks, but I can honestly say that the B&J one had a better flavor to the actual ice cream. Also, we were tasting at 10 a.m.! That is definitely the earliest in the day that I have ever eaten ice cream. It was not a difficult adjustment.
I am pretty sure all of our eyes about popped out of our heads when they wheeled this into the room.
The ice cream in these pints had just come off the line at the factory. At this point it has never been fully frozen – it’s on its way, but it is still “soft serve” at this point. When it’s not quite as cold, you can actually taste a lot more of the flavor – so this was pretty darn delicious.
After learning about chunk and swirl distribution, we went on the normal factory tour with a hilarious tour guide who had a huge arsenal of excellent cow puns. And guess what was waiting for us at the end of the trip:
MORE ICE CREAM! This one is Razzleberry. It is currently only being made at the factory.
On the way out, we visited the Flavor Graveyard, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s fun to see how food trends change.
This was such a fun trip! By the time I was on a plane home, I was full of new knowledge and ice cream, of course. I don’t think I’ve ever consumed so much ice cream in such a short period of time. But I learned a lot about a brand that I’m a big fan of.
A quick word about working with brands: I always want to be clear about the content on my blog and the content’s origins. This was a free trip for me, paid for by Ben & Jerry’s. I agreed to go because I already knew that I liked their brand and their business practices. While the terms of my working with brands like payment/trade/travel received may vary from brand to brand and deal to deal, the one thing you can count on is that I do not produce content for brands that I don’t like or that I don’t use in my house.