Food Writer's Diary

Ben & Jerry’s tries to put New York City in a cup

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Would you like to try this ice cream treat? 

Well you can’t. Not ever. 

This is Ben & Jerry’s NYC ice cream, a flavor created for its City Churned campaign and served at a “pop-up party” at Pier 17 in Manhattan, near W. 14th St., between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. today. 

City Churned is a multi-city campaign in which Ben & Jerry’s uses a little bit of crowd-sourcing and a little bit of random hocus-pocus to invent a flavor that expresses a city’s essence, I guess. But not really.

For New York City, Ben & Jerry’s set up turnstiles in Williamsburg for people to walk through. If they picked one side, that meant coffee, the other side meant chcolate. They set up basketball hoops. If people shot into one hoop, they were selecting marshmallows, if they shot in the other, that meant they wanted brownies.

But they also had the city itself decide, sort of. They counted the number of trains that departed on time (spoonable caramel), and those that were delayed (waffle cone pieces). They looked at the number of photos posted from Central Park (caramel corn) and those from the Highline (vanilla cake pieces). 

“So it was a little bit of conscious voting and unconscious voting,” Michael Hayes, Ben & Jerry's associate digital marketing manager, explained to me as I tasted the ice cream, for which I stood in line.

Pictured above is half of the line. It curved along the pier. So it wasn’t a short line. But the woman in back of me asked me to hold her place while she checked to make sure we were in the right line (we were), and she came back with barbecue chicken wings from Fletcher’s, a barbecue joint that was handing out free food at the party. I’d been meaning to try Fletcher’s, so that killed two birds with one stone. The wings were tender and tasty, and came with a small cup of spicy sauce that tasted of strawberries. 

My line neighbor left again and returned with Fletcher's smokey pork-laced baked beans.

Why does Ben & Jerry’s create these City Churned flavors, I wonderd. In fact, I’d asked one of their publicists before tha party.

“The point of a one-time flavor is to create excitement, and let the Ben & Jerry's consumer choose their own flavor, instead of having us choose it for them. It's a unique opportunity for Ben & Jerry’s fans to create and taste a flavor that is custom made,” she wrote in an e-mail.

What The Customer, or New York City — but really Ben & Jerry’s after giving us a narrow range of either/or options, most of which we didn’t know about and couldn’t control — ultimately created was a Six Point Brewery (from Brooklyn) three-bean vanilla ice cream (which tasted like a pretty hoppy beer) with a butterscotch swirl from Spoonable Caramels (a local company, of course) and brownies from Greyston Bakery (not just local but dedicated to hiring ex-convicts and others in need of a new or fresh start, and also a supplier of Ben & Jerry's for the past 23 years), topped with caramel corn from another local company, Liddabit Sweet.

It tasted like it was made by someone who doesn’t like New York, or, at the very least, doesn’t really understand it.

Unlike New York, a city whose diversity melds into a gritty, spicy, often bitter but ultimately, in its way, sweet sort of harmony, like my single-serving relationship with the woman in line with me, this ice cream was a bunch of sweet things with a little salt dipped in creamy beer — really kind of a gastronomic cacophany.

But it was also ephemeral — an ice cream to be tried once and only once. 

Maybe they’ll have better luck next time.

 
 

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Food Writer's Diary is a blog written by Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, which covers culinary trends and his adventures.

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Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn is responsible for reporting on culinary trends in foodservice for Nation's Restaurant News. He joined NRN in 1999, after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand, where...
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