By Hannah Laga Abram
Rituals to a Vermont summer include plunging into an icy swimming hole, watching a bonfire roar into the sky and, of course, slurping a maple creemee at a roadside stand.
While there’s some debate about how you spell creemee, there are two things that most experts agree on: creemees are part of Vermont summer and no, they are NOT just soft-serve.
As Erin Torres, the author of the blog Travel Like a Local, puts it: “A creemee is soft-serve ice cream, yes, but it typically has a higher fat content than your run-of-the-mill soft-serve, making it creamier in texture and richer in flavor, hence the name creemee. Most Vermont creemees have a fat content of 5 grams or so per serving, adding to their silkiness (and splurge-worthy goodness), although some can reach up towards 12 grams of milk-fat.”
Torres has traveled the state in search of the ultimate creemees. She’s visited,by her own estimate, about 40 stands. Right up there on her list is Canteen Creemee in Waitsfield.
Whether that is the best creemee is a matter for a hot day’s debate. If you ask locals in southern Vermont, they will tell you there’s no beating The Creemee Stand in Wilmington, whose maple creemees (made with syrup from maples tapped right on site) were named the best dessert in Vermont by The Food Network.
And it’s that high-fat, creamy richness and the freshness of the dairy that make ice creams ranging from Canteen Creemee’s sundaes to the flavors Wilcox Dairy has been mixing for five generations, something special. While many source their milk, cream and ice cream mixes from Kingdom Creamery or other wholesalers, it’s the creative concoctions these ice cream makers come up with that makes each a little different and worth seeking out.
Ben & Jerry’s, Waterbury Center
This is the big daddy of Vermont ice creams, the hippy brand that started out as a scoop shop in Burlington in 1978. It went global and took many of the progressive views of its founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, with it. Though the two founders (who used to sing the minutes of their annual shareholders meetings, which were held in a tent in a field) are no longer involved and the brand is owned by Unilever, the zany energy of their philosophy remains. Human rights and dignity, social and economic justice and environmental protection, restoration and regeneration are the three central pillars the brand stands on. After all, “At B&J’s we believe that ice cream can change the world,” spokesperson Laura Peterson says. Much of the ice cream served here comes from Vermont dairy and the pints still feature the brightly colored artwork inspired by the signature Holstein that Middlebury, Vt. artist Woody Jackson designed in 1972. Though since Covid-19 the Factory Tour (as fun for adults as it is for kids) has been put on a hiatus, you can still find pints and scoops that feature new flavors. In January, the company introduced the Topped line, featuring a layer of chocolate ganache topping over flavors such as Salted Caramel Brownie and Tiramisu as well as some dairy-free versions of its favorites.
Canteen Creemee Company, Waitsfield
“I thought that the iconic Vermont creemee could go to the next level,” says Charlie Menard who serves stunning creemees out of a takeout window at his shop, Canteen Creemee Company in Waitsfield. These are not your ordinary creemees, but art forms that come in a variety of colors and shapes with elaborate toppings. A Vermont native from Colchester, Menard wanted to rework creemees and the concept of sundaes and put a new spin on both. That is how he ended up with menu items like the “Apple Crusher: Cinnamon and ginger creemee, apple chips, apple sauté, cider donut, and cider cream.” His biggest hit flavor is basil, though the most outlandish flavor he ever made used butterfly peaflower tea and was bright blue. Menard uses Kingdom Creamery creemee mix as a base for his wacky and delicious flavor combinations. “My hope for the ice cream is that people realize they can be a little adventurous,” Menard says. And at “C.C.C.” ‘adventurous’ extends to other things on the menu which now includes everything from Duck Leg Salad to Bahn Mi to Rosemary Asiago Fries. It is hard work to keep up with, since everything is made in house, but as Menard says, “It’s so worth it, I feel like I’ve done something different…it’s thrilling.”
Kingdom Creamery of Vermont, East Hardwick
“Where the milk comes from makes a big difference,” says Leslie Michaud, who runs Kingdom Creamery with her husband Jeremy and her in-laws Denis and Claire. Though the Michaud family only began making ice cream in 2011, they have been dairy farmers in East Hardwick for three generations. They milk 325 cows and have a herd of 800 that grazes on 500 acres of rolling fields. In the past ten years the Michauds have become a major supplier of the ice cream mix that companies throughout New England use as a base for their ice cream.
Ice cream and creemee mixes are made to order in collaboration with partners and involve combining Kingdom Creamery milk, cream and eggs with varying amounts of sugar and stabilizers. Michaud says that 200,000 gallons of milk goes into making these mixes each year, and mixes always look different. “If it has milk and cream in it, we can make it,” she says, adding that they are glad to partner with other businesses.
But it takes a lot of work. Leslie and Jeremy have four teenage sons, all of whom can “work anybody under the table,” Michaud says. The initial push for the ice cream project began “in order for our kids to have the opportunity to farm,” she says. “It’s in our blood.”
Kingdom Creamery doesn’t currently have a scoop shop, but that doesn’t mean you can’t drop by the farm. Michaud said they welcome visitors, particularly those willing to learn. “It’s so important to educate people about how much work goes into that gallon of milk or scoop of ice cream, how much goes into food in general,” she said.
Kingdom Creamery continues to sell over 30 flavors of their own ice cream, including Blueberry Blush (made with fresh blueberries) and Maple on Snow, a buttery maple ice cream with a maple caramel swirl made with syrup from their own sugarbush. “It’s the food system full circle here at Kingdom Creamery,” Michaud said.
lu.lu , Vergennes
Vergennes is the state’s oldest (and now smallest) city. But even if you don’t care a whit about history, go for the standout ice cream. Located in the heart of town, lu.lu moved here in 2018, after starting off in Bristol.
You’ll find flavors like “Slumdog Millionaire,” a curried peanut butter ice cream (invented by owner Laura Mack’s dad), Basil, and Fresh Mint are always around, but most days Mack creates new flavors, too. “Making ice cream is my Zen mode,” she says. One of her most recent concoctions that involved brown butter, brown sugar and chocolate shavings had Mack saying to herself: “Damn, I’m really good at my job.”
lu.lu makes all of its ice cream 100% from scratch, using ingredients from “down the road,” Mack says. Dairy comes from family-owned Monument Farms in Addison County, and there’s a reason for it. “The backbone of Vermont is the dairy industry,” Mack says. “It is so important to support local dairy farmers, and I’m just helping one tiny scoop at a time.”
This remains true for those dairy-free folks out there. “Even if you’re dairy free, come and have some of our dairy-free ice cream and that will help us buy dairy from local farmers.”
In this way, Mack said, her ice cream is really about “getting a taste of the landscape of Vermont.” lu.lu ice cream can be found at the scoop shop in Vergennes and several local farmer’s markets, as well as ordered online.
Sisters of Anarchy, Shelburne
You can’t miss Sisters of Anarchy. Bold black-and-white packaging and flavor names like “Raspberry Beret,” “Respect Your Elders” and “Token Male,” are hallmarks of the Shelburne-based brand that the founders, Becky Castle and Bob Clark, named after their three “powerful, chaotic” kids. Castle and Clark met skiing at the Middlebury Snow Bowl when both were students at Middlebury College. After working out West as ski instructors, baristas and adventurers, the two returned to Vermont and started the Fisher Brothers Berry Farm in Shelburne. They started making ice cream by hand in 2016, producing a total of 250 gallons in their first year. This year, they estimate they will produce 10,000 gallons.
Starting with ice cream mix from Kingdom Creamery, they make flavors that showcase the six miles of berry rows they grow: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, aronia berries, elderberries and Marquette wine grapes. “We are the farmers,” Clark says.
The ice cream is sweetened with honey from Champlain Valley Apiaries, which keeps several hives on the berry farm. All of the flavors are an adventure, but definitely try “Crystal Blue Persuasion” – blueberries in a vanilla base. If you’re feeling wild, the newest flavor, “Beefy Blonde,” features bacon, as well as blueberries and maple.
“We are big on women’s empowerment,” Castle says, adding that with her children now in their teens, “everything is a social justice discussion.” Nearly all of Sisters of Anarchy’s summer workers—from ice cream scoopers to the berry-picking crew—are young women.
Their website, also a hub of “WomAnarchy,” takes online orders and ships ice cream, making Sisters of Anarchy one of the few Vermont ice creams you can have mailed to you.
“We want our ice cream to bring people happiness and well, a desire for more,” Clark says.
It surely seems to do that at the weekly “Broccoli Bar” nights at Fisher Brothers Farm–where the Burlington-based Broccoli Bar food truck shares its healthy fare, and ice cream desserts are abundant. This summer those take place on Wednesday evenings from 5-8pm. Bring a blanket and your tastebuds. If you’re not nearby, no worries, as Sisters of Anarchy also show up at over 200 off-site events each summer.
Strafford Organic Creamery, Strafford
Strafford Nordic Center, is one of eastern Vermont’s loveliest cross-country ski centers. Just up the road, Rockbottom Farm turns out some of the state’s freshest ice cream, thanks to Strafford Organic Creamery. The Creamery sits on the 600-acre farm where Earl Ransom grew up milking dairy cows. Now, he and his wife Amy Huyffer and their four sons share the land with a herd of 76 Guernsey cows.
The couple began bottling milk in glass bottles and making ice cream in small batches in 2001 in an effort to keep the farm going as larger companies began to dominate Vermont’s organic dairy industry. Ransom, one of the few Black farmers in the state, has become a vocal advocate for small farmers and the BIPOC community.
Guernsey cows are famous for their rich yellow cream and the response to their bottled milk and ice cream was immediate and incredibly positive, Huyffer says. As a result, all of Strafford’s flavors— which include some made with fresh, hand-picked mint and black raspberries—are meant to complement and showcase the flavor of the Guernsey cream. Huyffer prefers to keep the ice cream’s fat content to herself, but says it is “higher than anyone else,” and notes that the ice cream includes significantly less added sugar than comparable products. “The other flavors sit back and let the cream do its work,” Huyffer says.
And boy do they. Sweet Cream says it all and ginger and cinnamon flavors are mind-blowingly good. Huyffer and her family treat the cows with an enormous amount of care. So much, in fact, that Huyffer would “like to come back in a next life as one of our cows,” she says.
A 20-minute drive from Bromley Mountain, nestled into the town of East Arlington, is Vermont’s oldest ice cream company. Wilcox Ice Cream began as Wilcox Dairy in 1892 churning milk from their own cows, and they began making ice cream in 1928. At the time, freezers didn’t exist, so the ice cream was made in small batches with rock salt and ice and served immediately.
More than a century later, the fourth, fifth, and sixth generations of the Wilcox family are still hard at work making artisanal ice cream. “What we do here we don’t do for money, but for the love of something that started long before us,” Chris Wilcox, 50, says. Chris currently heads up the business together with her brother Craig, 53, and their 78-year-old father, Howard. Together, they produce about 80,000 gallons of ice cream every year.
The team creates myriad flavors with an ice cream mix from Kingdom Creamery in East Hardwick. The ice cream’s fat content is a rich 14%. Though vanilla is the best-selling flavor to this day, they’ve also gotten creative with ice creams such as Raspberry Cheesecake and Mocha Mud Pie. And that’s just basic hard ice cream. Wilcox also makes hand-dipped chocolate-covered ice cream bars with black raspberry, espresso, and peanut butter ice cream inside. In addition, Wilcox is on the verge of launching a non-dairy/plant-based product line with a very smooth mouth feel. “We think we have nailed it,” Chris says. “If we’re lucky, these plant-based goodies will hit the shelves in July.”
Wilcox Ice Cream currently isn’t open to visitors, but you can find their products at stores and markets throughout Vermont and even in New York. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for their weekly and seasonal specials, like Orange Pineapple or Maple Gingersnap. n