Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Ben & Jerry's Visit: Part 3

Ok, I've made up my mind, the next part of the Ben & Jerry's Blogger Bash that I need to talk about is the awesome flavor gurus and all the cool stuff they have at their disposal. Now Edy's has videos up of John Harrison, Turkey Hill has "Ask Ernie", and I've even had the chance to correspond with Phillip, the guy behind Stone Ridge Creamery. Every ice cream company has an expert behind the wheel, and to pump out the great flavors we know and love, Ben & Jerry's has flavor gurus.

Now deep in the heart of Ben & Jerry's headquarters lies their test kitchen. These well dressed gentlemen are (from left to right) Peter, John, and Eric. All three have extensive culinary backgrounds. Now you may remember Peter as one of the crazy guys from the "Do the World a Flavor" Webisodes (Don't ask me where Arnold is, maybe he's off discovering a new flavor!). Peter has been with the company !24! years, and John and Eric have been with the company for over 12 years.  This doesn't really start sinking in until they start talking about which flavors they have come up with. Peter, for example, is the man responsible for bringing the awesome Chubby Hubby to life. Eric is the man behind such flavors as Key Lime Pie (and I think Flourless Chocolate Cake, but I'm not positive). John in the middle there, he's responsible for the fantastic new Milk & Cookies and also Mission to Marzipan (my apologies for mixing up who did what).

I was just thinking, it must be kind of tough when you pour your energy into a flavor only for it to enter the flavor graveyard a few years later. I got the distinct impression that a flavor can go through many rounds of tweaking only to be cut in the final round of testing. You can even get cut during the final round, come back next year, and then get cut again. That's got to be tough BUT when a flavor makes it through and becomes ingrained in our being, that's gotta be nice to known it was all you.

Ok, sorry, sidetracking here, so we run through some introductions, suit up in our white lab coats, and then count off by numbers. There will be four bloggers for each guru and we've got about an hour to make a flavor. It's time to head into the flavor lab!

Tip number one for making great ice cream: Pre-freeze all of your inclusions!

Check out the spread they've set up for us (from left to right, back to front): white chocolate, praline nuts, brownies(i think), chocolate cookies, chocolate peace signs, chocolate covered nuts, heath bars, cookie dough, cheesecake brownies, oatmeal cookies, blondie brownies, and dark chocolate chunks. Oh man, talk about tempting fate by putting that many tasty things infront of one's face. I've always loved chilled foods so this is just torture. I haven't been that tempted to chow down in a very long time.

Ok, must focus! There's also an assortment of swirls in those pastry bags (fudge, caramel, raspberry, etc). Once you pick your swirl, the gurus had some refrigerated drawers at their disposal, so they can just chill whichever one they want to use. Notice the use of glass beakers. It's high school science all over again!

Eric broke out the box of bottled flavors. It was a wide ranging assortment and I made sure to look them all over. Unfortunately, I don't remember all of them, but it was a wide ranging assortment icluding orange, ginger, lemon, mint, and even rose!

We had to decide fairly quick on what we should make. A member of my group asked if we could do something with lemon. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but hey, if you don't try new things, how are you suppose to expand your horizons? John pulled out a big bucket of base mix (cream, milk, egg yolks, sugar) and poured about 1 pints worth into a pitcher. We weren't sure how the lemon was going to go, so we started small rather than waste a ton of ingredients.

John then pulled out a gallon jug of vanilla, but it was the kind with vanilla bean flecks, so he grabbed a different jug of vanilla (yeah, that's a lot of vanilla). Just like you might do at home, we used a bit of vanilla as a base. We then slowly added in the lemon to make sure we kept things mild (note: I'm not a huge fan of fruit flavors, but I definitely have an easier time with mild fruit&vanilla flavors like cherry vanilla). Once we agreed on the lemon content, we made a bigger batch and poured it into the machine.

I want to say the flavor mixed in the machine for about 10 minutes. It's a ten (pint) system and made short work of our 4 pint mix. They don't make the mix super thick (frozen), instead it comes out softserve-ish because then they are able to blend it together with the swirl. Once the base mix is ready, it's put in a big metal bowl and mixed with whatever inclusions the guru desires.

Ok, here is John prepping the rotating cake tray for us. Basically, you put a pint container on the tray and start spinning. One person squeezes in the ice cream mix while a second person squeezes in the swirl. The idea is to get a nice distribution of ingredients that will be a good representation of an actual production run. If it sounds fun, well, it was!

Our ice cream was now ready and went into the freezer. The marketing folks had agreed to judge the flavors made by the bloggers and decide which is the best. We're feeling pretty confident since we swiped most of the blondie brownies, but uh oh.....

...while my team was running with our lemon idea, Peter's team was breaking out the cooking spices. Sure, you would expect that big bottle of cinnamon on the right there, but paprika? pepper? Who knew!?

Notice the little plastic cups we used for sampling. Just like any new recipe, you add some ingredient, sample, tweak a bit more, sample, over and over til you get it just right. I was using my sampling cup to try each inclusion with our lemon base. I was temped by the salty praline nuts and also the smoothness of the white chocolate, but I was out voted and we went with the blondie brownies.

After my team finished up and we had a few minutes to spare, I got to talk with John a bit more about Milk & Cookies. It really is my favorite flavor right now so it was really cool that I got a chance to talk about it with him. We talked about it from a technical aspect and he mentioned there was a food science guy there that helped tweak the cookie swirl until it was just right. We also talked about the popularity of the flavor and I was honored to find out that John had actually read my review of the flavor. Cookies & Cream has always had a special place in my heart, a first ice cream love shall we say, and he has just taken it to a whole new level.

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Im, Lick My Spoon)

One of my fellow bloggers snapped this shot as we were leaving. I wish we could have hung out with these guys for the whole day. I would love to hear more about flavors gone astray, or even just watch them banter back and forth about were a flavor should be. I just think it's really cool watching a professional sample a food and think about what's missing. You know, I forgot to ask if they collaborate or if they keep to themselves, I assume its a bit of both. Finally, I don't want to mislead people into thinking that these guys sit around and eat ice cream all day. They have to do paperwork and day to day stuff just like the rest of us. It's a fun job, but it's still a job. I wish these guys continued success and look forward to all the new flavors they have in store for us.

Trivia Note: Consider Ben the original flavor guru. Jerry doesn't take any credit for anything developed in the early days, he said it was all Ben.


Unknown said...

Actually John is the man behind Mission To Marzipan- makes him even cooler doesn't it?!

Dubba Scoops said...

Doh, I knew I should have taken notes! thanks for the assist! (it doesnt help I was totally focusing on milk & cookies)

Unknown said...

The Milk & Cookies is indeed worth getting lost in so I fully understand. I just had to make a point of hugging gurus for their genius so I remembered these things lol.