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May 25, 2011

Coming Soon — Made in VT Creemee Mixes!

Imgres-1 Living in Vermont, we have come to accept, whether we want to or not (or even believe it), that everything made in the Green Mountain State is better. Whether it's maple syrup, cheese or those crazy-ass mismatched socks advertised in the New Yorker, if the product says Made in Vermont, it's superior.

As such, we have developed a collective taste for all things local. We want everything to be made in our fine state — we want (nay, demand) our coffee roasted down the block from our house, we want our rice grown in a paddy up the road and most likely want our beloved bananas, avocados and citrus to be cultivated in our backyard, though that won't happen until global warming gets worse. We have, for better or worse, become local snobs. That's not exactly a bad thing. It means that there is likely a market for your Made in Vermont whodads and whatsits and that you will be supported in your efforts.

That's what two new dairy product operations are banking on. Later this summer, the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery and Clair-A-Den Dairy in Hardwick both intend on rolling out new local products of their own — creemee mixes.

Since the 1950s, creemee stands the state over have been using soft-serve mixes made by large dairy processors like Hood, based in Lynnfield, Mass. Because of the extra infrastructure required to produce a palatable, consistent creemee mix, Vermont producers shied away from getting into the creemee game and finding a locally made soft-serve mix was all but impossible. (To read more about creemee history in Vt., click here.)

But over the years, vendors and customers alike have clamored for Vermont-made creemees, says Rob Hirss, plant operations manager for the St. Albans co-op. There's a cachet to the Vermont brand that creemee stand owners know they could use to sell ice cream. Not that creemees need the marketing help. They're doing just fine selling themselves, thanks. But, says Hirss, people want to know what's in their creemees, and they reason that if it's local, it's less likely to be filled with crap they can't pronounce.

Imgres [FYI, a typical creemee sold in Vermont is comprised of milk, sugar, corn syrup, cream, whey protein concentrate, natural and artificial flavors, mono and diglycerides, guar gum, polysorbate 80, carrageenan cellulose gum, salt and vitamin A palmitate. Yum!]

The St. Albans co-op boasts 450 members and processes 1.2 billion pounds of rBST-free milk annually. For some time, the co-op had been looking for a way for their members to get a higher margin for their milk. A value-added product like creemee mix seemed a good way to go, Hirss says. "We wanted to get closer to the consumer side of the business."

After a year of working on the concept, St. Albans began construction on a new processing facility in the fall. With a couple of local customers in mind, the co-op set about creating their creemee mix, which comes in chocolate and vanilla. There's no magic to it, Hirss contends. It's just high-quality milk from Vermont cows, plus some sugar and some stabilizers stirred into a liquid mix.

Currently, St. Albans is testing its creemee product in a handful of locations in the Burlington area, though Hirss is being tight-lipped about which ones. They hope to have the product available for purchase as soon as possible. In addition to the creemee mix, the co-op is also experimenting with producing a hard ice cream base.

Over in the Northeast Kingdom, the Michaud family, who run Clair-A-Den Dairy, has been hard at work on a creemee mix of their own. The 600-milker dairy had been looking for options to keep the farm viable in the wake of unsustainable milk prices, explains Jeremy Michaud, who runs the third generation family dairy with his two brothers. Value-added products seemed the way to go. "The more milk we can put through our own processing plant, the better," Michaud says.

Over the past two years, the Michauds have invested in a new enterprise — Kingdom Creamery of Vermont — which will produce its own line of yogurt, as well as hard and soft ice cream. Getting the business off the ground hasn't been easy, Michaud says. The family knew how to run a dairy, but they were complete novices when it came to turning liquid milk into food products. As a result, there's been a lot of trial and error over the past couple years.

Michaud, like Hirss, sees a strong market for his creemee mix. Consumers have long been asking for a soft serve product that's made with 100 percent Vermont milk, he says. And he has confidence in his product: "It's good because I know where it came from."

The family bought a creemee machine and has been sampling Kingdom Creamery's product for months. The results have been positive, Michaud says, especially with the kids in the family. They've also been testing the mix, which comes in chocolate and vanilla, at a few creemee stands in the region, though Michaud won't say which. Down the road, they anticipate offering a maple mix with syrup from their own sugarbush. Michaud says he expects to launch Kingdom Creamery in earnest by mid-summer.

Until then, we'll just have to be happy with our non-local creemees.

I don't understand. Are we supposed to be rooting for these Vermont farmers? I thought sugary foods were so bad that Attorney General Bill Sorrell said he'd like to slap a tax on all of them. Face it, all these farmers are just trying to exploit us poor helpless fat people. They're worse than Entergy! The State must protect us!

Lauren, how about some additional info here. Is the product organic? Is it BBGH-free? 'Local' doesn't mean anything if the product isn't raised and processed properly. Dig deeper.

I enjoyed the main creemee article, it answered a question I've always had about creemees, which is how they're different from soft serve in, say, NH. I always suspected that the answer was "they aren't."

Anything that's consistently different about a "creemee" would let us declare it a mystical concoction worthy of tipping the scales toward a Vermont trip for a family with kids. Saying that Vermont milk "tastes better" is nonsense, of course, but as with most things in the world of marketing, that is irrelevant.

These products are not organic products but the milk is coming from local Vermont cows that are not treated with rBST. Just because a product is not organic doesn't mean we should rule it out because the farmers must be pumping their cows full of hormones and other drugs. Conventional dairy farmers have been struggling to keep farming for the past several years due to unpredictable milk prices and are looking for any way to diversify to bring in extra revenue. I think a Vermont made creemee mix is long overdue. And organic or not it still wouldn't make creemees any healthier.

Donnelley's in Lake Clear, NY has been doing this since the 50's. Uses the milk from the cows on their farm and the stand uses an ancient device to crank out the thickest, custard-iest stuff ever.

It is hands-down the best soft serve (sorry folks, NY'er born and bred, so I don't use the C-word) I've ever had.

I'm glad it's not organic. I have more confidence in food not labeled organic.

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