Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour

“Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” instructed our tour guide, Bob. “I, state your name, do joyously declare that I lo-o-o-ve ice cream, and I will seek out only the best forsaking al-l-l-l the rest from this day forward, so help me Ben. Now let’s get this tour started!”

Antsy and excited children with their parents in tow, couples looking for something fun and cheap to do, and a school-bus-load of students waited in anticipation for Bob to lead the way. The tour began as we ascended a small stairway, brightly lit to highlight the walls which were covered in a brightly painted mural depicting cows, ice cream cones and happy customers. Once at the top of the stairs, Bob directed us into the “moo-vie” theatre to watch a short informational video on how the Ben and Jerry’s company came to be.

Tour goers are told that Ben and Jerry’s originated in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vt. in 1978 after best friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield attended a $5 course on making ice cream. One year later they celebrated “Free Cone Day” as their “quintessential expression of customer appreciation,” which still carries through today.

After the film, tourists are ushered into a glassed-in mezzanine to observe the process their favorite pint goes through to end up in their freezer.

The process begins with a custard base of milk, cream, sugar and egg yolks, which are mixed in 1,000 gallon-batches. The mix then gets homogenized and left in the tank room overnight. “It’s actually proven, with ice cream, that once you make the mix, let it sit from four to 24 hours, and it will taste better,” said Bob.

The next day the mixture is taken to flavor vats, which are where basic flavorings such as vanilla, cherry, coffee and more are added. Next the mixture travels to the industrial size soft serve ice cream machine and becomes a semi-solid. Once in soft serve form, the ice cream is pumped to the chunk feeder, which drives the Heath Bar chunks, white chocolate chunks, chocolate covered chips or any of their other favorite ice cream additions uniformly into the ice cream. “To give you an idea of how much chunk we go through, when we are making our Heath Bar Crunch, in one production day we will go through four tons of Heath Bars, so we’re not skimping on those at all,” said Bob.

Next, the ice cream is deposited into the cup through the automatic filler and a lid is attached. It is then flipped, weighed and frozen solid in the spiral hardener, a pitch black -40 degree Fahrenheit room with a wind-chill of -70 degrees Fahrenheit. The whole process only takes two days. At this factory, a pint of ice cream is flash frozen and broken open every 15 minutes to monitor swirl and chunk distribution, and furthermore, pints are tasted every hour “because there are some things computers can’t tell you,” said Bob.

The next part of the tour is where the real excitement begins. The group is led to the “Flavor Room” and given a free sample of one of the many flavors made at the factory. The walls are covered in Ben and Jerry’s memorabilia and “peace love excitement and ice cream” symbols dot the tables and napkin holders. “Cherry Garcia, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, they were all created in this very room. So who’s up for a sample?” asks Bob.

The test flavor is revealed as Milk and Cookies, and the crowd descends on Bob while he asks if there are any questions. The tour is now officially over, but while enjoying a free sample, visitors are encouraged to visit the gift shop, which is filled with everything from tie-dyed Cherry Garcia shirts, to Ben and Jerry’s drinking glasses. But, perhaps their best novelty item is the gag gift of a Ben and Jerry’s cup with spilled ice cream and a spoon made entirely out of plastic. In the warmer months, patrons are given the opportunity to take a stroll through their “Flavor Graveyard,” where all retired or failed ice cream flavors go to rest.

For only $4 and an hour’s time, this tour is more than worth attending. Not only is it a native Vermont company, but they have so many ice cream and frozen Greek yogurt flavors that it would be hard to walk away unsatisfied.