WATERBURY, Vt. -- Recently, on my way to Burlington, I decided to indulge myself with ice cream, cheese, chocolates, cider, and doughnuts -- all along one road, Route 100 in Waterbury, or, as the locals call it, ''Ben & Jerryville." My plan was this: First stop, Ben & Jerry's, then the Cabot Cheese store, Lake Champlain Chocolates, and Cold Hollow Cider Mill. I do not consider any of this junk food.
Exiting Interstate 89 I turned north on Route 100 and made straight for Ben & Jerry's. Before touring the factory, I went to the Flavor Graveyard to pay homage to a dearly departed friend, Chocolate Chocolate Cookie. The cemetery, on a shady hill surrounded by a picket fence, was crowded with people paying their respects to a departed favorite. Each grave has a wooden tombstone with the flavor's name, when it was produced, and when it expired (or was retired). I paused a moment at Fresh Georgia Peach and Dastardly Mash (both great in their time).
During the tour, our guide, Shannon, said more than 300,000 people visit the factory each year. My tour group had 22 adults from all over the world: Alaska, England, Australia, France, Japan. Everyone was snapping pictures; the Japanese tourists were falling over themselves to get their pictures taken with anything that had the Ben & Jerry's logo on it.
At the aptly named Cow Over the Moon Theater we were shown a video telling how Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield -- the actual Ben and Jerry -- met in seventh grade. After taking a $5 business correspondence course, they decided that since ice cream was their favorite food, they should make their own. They started concocting recipes in the basements of their parents' homes, and in 1978, in a renovated gas station in Burlington, opened their first ice cream shop. The rest is history. (In 2000, the company was bought by
In the glass-walled mezzanine we watched the flavor of the day being packaged. Some B&J trivia: The factories are in Vermont. St. Albans produces the most (500,000 pints a day). Waterbury, the only plant where tours are given, turns out 150,000 pints daily.
At the end of the tour we enjoyed samples of Cherry Garcia, the top-selling flavor. In my next life, I want to work as a taste tester for Ben & Jerry's.
From there, I went on to another Vermont institution, the Cabot Cheese store. In 1919, 94 dairy farmers pooled their life savings, totaling $3,700, to purchase a creamery building in the village of Cabot, in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Today, that plant slices and packages more than 2 million pounds of butter and cheese a day. That doesn't include the hundreds of gallons of yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream also produced there.
I munched my way through the shop, which was not lacking in samples. Everywhere I turned there were mounds of fresh cheese: pepperjack, five peppercorn, Monterey Jack, garlic cheddar, smoky bacon cheddar, and Cabot's signature cheese, extra sharp cheddar. People were buying cheeses by the wheel.
I needed a sweet, so my next stop was Lake Champlain Chocolates. Jim Lampman, a restaurant entrepreneur, started the company in 1983. He used to give gifts of expensive chocolates to his restaurant staff. One day, his chef confessed that the chocolates were terrible. Lampman challenged him to make better ones. What the chef came up with were truffles made with dark Belgian chocolate, and Vermont butter and cream. From those few truffles, a chocolate factory was born.
Tours are offered only at the flagship shop in Burlington. After taking one, I can relate to how Lucy and Ethel must have felt in the ''I Love Lucy" episode in which they worked in a chocolate factory for a day. Pure overload!
This shop, with its to-die-for-handcrafted chocolates, is a chocoholic's dream come true. Truffles come in many flavors: cappuccino, vanilla malt, raspberry, and champagne, to name a few. There are also Signature bars, a solid piece of Belgian chocolate, and Five-Star Chocolate bars, once named ''the ultimate chocolate bar" by Vogue magazine. I noshed on samples while choosing treats for the road.
Last stop was Cold Hollow Cider Mill for apple cider. The mill, in a red clapboard converted dairy barn, has been family owned since 1974. It is famous for hand-pressed cider, honey, and cider doughnuts, of which 400 dozen a day are made in peak foliage season. As I entered the store, huge trays of doughnuts were being taken from the oven. The aroma was delicious, so of course the first thing I did was order a dozen to go and three to eat while I shopped. Tasting one I could see why Gourmet magazine had named them one of the top four doughnuts in the country.
This place is pure kitsch, loaded with knickknacks, pottery, woolen items, magnets, Christmas ornaments, you name it. Specialty foods include the company's own cider mustards, jellies, honey, apple and maple butters, homemade cookies and pies, and Vermont maple syrup.
Near the honey display, a glass beehive is suspended from the ceiling. Bees fly out through a glass tube, retrieve pollen, come back and start making honey. The process is fascinating to watch.
The mill presses 75 million pounds of apples each year to make the cider. In spring and summer, the pressing is done three days a week. In peak season, mid-September to December, it's done every day. Visitors can watch the process through a glass partition.
Let's recap: I had ice cream and cheese made with Vermont cream and milk, chocolates written up in Vogue, and doughnuts voted fourth best in the country. Is this junk food? Not in my book.
Fran Folsom is a freelance writer in Cambridge.