The Jew And The Carrot

Frozen Friday: The Jerry Behind Ben & Jerry's

By Lucy Cohen Blatter

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of Ben and Jerry’s

In 1984 President Ronald Reagan declared July National Ice Cream Month. In honor of the month, we’ve been celebrating this delicious food each week with Frozen Fridays, a series about Jews and ice cream. This will be our last Frozen Friday post, so we thought we’d go out with a bang!

Ice cream mavens Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (better known as Ben and Jerry) are as famous for their ice cream flavors as they are for the wacky monikers that accompany them (Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey and Half Baked anyone?).

Born just four days apart, Ben and Jerry grew up together in Merrick, Long Island (they’re both Jewish). In 1978, with a $12,000 investment ($4,000 of it borrowed), they opened Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream shop in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vt. There, Ben worked the creative side, dreaming up flavor combinations, while Jerry made the ice cream. Success came quickly, and the company became known far and wide for its chunky, chock-full-of-goodies ice cream.

Though their company now belongs to multinational conglomerate Unilever, Ben and Jerry are still largely involved in its philanthropic projects. The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation donates about $1.8 million annually to nonprofit charities around the country. And while he doesn’t make ice cream any more, Jerry Greenfield admitted that he still eats a whole lot of it (and not just Ben & Jerry’s!)

We spoke with Greenfield about his humble beginnings, homemade ice cream making tips and a sundae inspired by the Passover Seder.

Lucy Cohen Blatter: I read that you and Ben started out wanting to make bagels. What happened?

Jerry Greenfield: Well it’s not that we really wanted to make bagels. We were considering both ice cream and bagels at the time. So we went to a used restaurant supply store in Albany to check out used bagel-making equipment. We discovered that it cost about $40,000. We thought ice cream would be cheaper.

How did you learn to make ice cream?

Ben and I both took a correspondence course on how to make ice cream at Penn State (They’re well-known for their ice cream making). It was $5, but we were really broke so we split one course between the two of us — $2.50 each.

Ben used to come up with all the flavors — he’s very creative. I then made them to his liking. I’m more oriented toward doing things in a reliable and routine way and Ben really likes to do creative things. So creating flavors worked well for him. I think the other thing about Ben is he is really interested in big chunks of cookies and candies, he likes texture variation. That’s why so many of our ice cream flavors had so many chunks.

What was the first flavor you ever sold?

Vanilla. It’s ironic because Ben & Jerry’s is a company known for all these different flavors. But vanilla is the true test of a good ice cream company. It’s a subtle flavor, and you can’t mask anything, so you need to use quality ingredients.

Did you ever consider making Jewish dessert-inspired ice creams?

Not really. But when we first opened our store we had a signature sundae called the “Haroset Special”. It had everything haroset has, without the wine — chopped apples and walnuts. I’m not sure it was extremely popular but it was there. It was definitely not as popular as the hot fudge sundae [laughs].

Are you still involved in creating flavors?

No. We’ve been put out to pasture.

Do you ever miss it?

There are elements of it that I miss. When we started we just had a homemade ice cream parlor. It was a real adventure. We didn’t know anything about business and we knew very little about ice cream, but it was just a joy.

What are some of your favorite flavors from those early days?

My favorite flavor is no longer made. It was coconut almond fudge chip. Ben really likes mocha walnut. Neither one exists anymore. It’s interesting that our favorite flavors were never successful.

What are your currently available favorites? (Editor’s Note: Share your favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor in the comments!)

I really like Heath Bar crunch. Ben really likes Cherry Garcia. That’s still the most popular flavor.

Do you ever make ice cream these days?

No I don’t. I still eat a ridiculous amount, though. The good thing about making it at home is it’s a really nice experience and you can make things exactly the way you want. But by and large you can’t make it more delicious than Ben and Jerry’s. If you wanted to use fresh fruit, or make the haroses special, though you can do that [laughs].

Any tips for DIYers looking to make ice cream at home?

You should use really good, fresh ingredients. You should use a lot of cream. And you don’t want to whip in too much air. When you’re making ice cream, it’s helpful to start with ingredients that are as cold as can be. They freeze faster and make smaller ice crystals, which makes the ice cream creamier and smoother.

How are you involved in the business now?

The company was sold to Unilever about 10 years ago. But Ben and I are both employed by the company. We kind of get to pick and choose the things we want to be involved with. We’re typically involved in the social missions of the company.

How do you guys decide where the money from the foundation goes?

The decision-making is done by employee groups. The idea Is that people who work there should decide where the money goes. It’s usually to small non-profits working for environmental and social justice.

Aside from Ben & Jerry’s, what are some your favorite ice creams?

I eat a lot of different ice creams. I’m not an ice cream snob by any means. But it’s not as if I won’t eat anything else but Ben & Jerry’s. I love going to small places making homemade ice creams. There’s great ice cream in Boston and San Francisco, and I always find gelato very interesting. I’ve never made it but I would love to play around with it.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Vermont, National Ice Cream Month, Jewish Ice Cream, Frozen Friday, Cherry Garcia, Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.