Ice cream kingpins Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have brought international ice cream fame to Vermont, the second-least-populated state in the U.S. They’ve slapped “Vermont’s Finest” on pints of Ben & Jerry’s before sending them around the world. But, as popular as Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey may be from Spain to Malaysia, they aren’t the frozen treats that green-blooded Vermonters crave during the state’s brief summer season. Ben & Jerry’s only has four scoop shops in the state, counting the brand’s world headquarters — fewer than the New York City metro area.
The true sign of a Vermont summer is the creemee, the local take on soft serve that’s served in chocolate, vanilla, and twists like elsewhere — but just as often, a flavor closer to locals’ hearts: maple. Every year, when winter gives way to fool’s spring, then second winter, then mud season, and then finally spring, creemee purveyors put out their sandwich boards and flip their signs to “open.” Vermonters adjust their routines to include frequent visits to ice cream shops, lining up in front of takeout windows.
“Vermont is such a rural place and everything is spread out and there’s not as many bustling centers of commerce,” says Matt Bonoma, owner of Vermont Cookie Love in North Ferrisburgh. “Everyone needs a reason to come together and socialize, and that can be harder to do when you’re physically spread apart.” The creemee is the perfect reason to gather.
What qualifies as a creemee
While some theorize the term creemee simply describes the texture of the ice cream, it’s more likely a portmanteau adopted from crème glacée, what Vermont’s Québécois neighbors call ice cream. The hyper-regional vernacular name doesn’t extend past Vermont’s borders, and it used to be even more limited than that; growing up in the southern part of the state, I knew it as soft serve, but creemee has since become the state’s de facto word — and a point of pride. (Spelling can vary, as in Bristol’s popular Village Creeme Stand, though the pair of double Es is most prevalent.)
A creemee looks a lot like soft serve ice cream, but Vermonters will assure you it’s distinct. Per the name, they’re creamier, thanks to a higher fat content in the base mix. Many shops source theirs from Kingdom Creamery, based in the state’s Northeast Kingdom region (others source from Hood, based in Lynnfield, Massachusetts). Kingdom uses quality milk produced by the 340 Holstein cows that live across the road, and they offer mixes in 5 and 10 percent fat, making them richer than standard soft serve. “We have nothing artificial in our creemee mix,” says Leslie Michaud, one of the creamery’s owners, noting that some places do want corn syrup added to make the ice cream smoother.
Bonoma, who sources from Kingdom Creamery, explains that shops also perfectly calibrate the soft serve machine to add the right amount of air to the mix, which gives the ice cream its characteristically light, almost-melted texture. “You want it soft and almost ready to melt. But too soft and it doesn’t stay on the cone, and you can’t get toppings on it,” Bonoma says. Creemees are typically delivered in a Styrofoam-like cake cone, which may not be the most flavorful option but does allow the airy ice cream to stand on its own. (The cake cone also creates the perfect texture for a last bite, becoming saturated — not soggy — with semi-melted ice cream to create a cone-to-cream golden ratio.)
Then there’s the maple flavor, which may have originated at the 1981 Rutland County Fair, though this idea has its detractors. Wherever it started, it represents Vermont’s idyllic agricultural identity distilled down to two of its core, defining elements: maple production and dairy farming. Sure, neighboring states produce both products, but Vermont is responsible for more than half of the maple production in the U.S. and makes twice as much milk as the rest of New England altogether.
While the maple creemee may be iconic Vermont, a handful of newer stands have been exploring flavors and methods from further afield. Canteen Creemee Co. in Waitsfield regularly rotates between flavors like strawberry, basil, Thai tea, and blueberry. As opposed to Ben and Jerry’s, creemees tend to be far simpler, not bogged down in all those chunks of mix-ins, making them perfect for no-nonsense Vermonters. But that doesn’t mean shops don’t have some fun with toppings. Little Gordo in Burlington has concocted the Wizard, their version of a Dairy Queen Blizzard, topping your choice of creemee base with chocolate-coated graham cracker and toasted marshmallow fluff. Some of the best renditions are made with local ingredients, like at Morse Farm in East Montpelier, where you can get a maple creemee with maple dust as a topping, or Vermont Cookie Love, a bakery that coats creemees in its own cookie crumbs. In Winooski, the dairy-averse can score a vegan version at Offbeat Creemee, and at Burlington Bay Market & Cafe your dog can get a creemee topped with a biscuit.
Finding a decent creemee isn’t hard, even in the smallest towns that aren’t much more than a few houses and a post office. You can find creemees at general stores, gas stations, farm stands, berry patches, and maple farms.
Where to get one
For the real maple creemee experience, go straight to the source. Morse Farm’s sugar house is open to the public, and you can take a stroll through the sugarbush before tucking into a creemee flavored with maple syrup made on-site.
1168 County Road, Montpelier, VT, 05602
Everything at this scoop shop is made from scratch — and even pasteurized — in-house. Many come for the impressive menu of homemade hard ice cream but the creemees, which in the summer are made with fresh, local berries, aren’t to be missed.
185 Main Street, Vergennes, VT, 05491
Stationed at Winooski’s recently renovated public pool, this creemee stand is the only one in the state with an entirely vegan menu. Instead of milk and eggs, owner Aisha Bassett makes her ice cream from coconut and oat milk. Her flavor list includes the classics, along with diverse offerings like matcha-mint and ube.
62 Pine Street, Winooski, VT, 05404
Cookie Love is primarily a cookie bakery, but from May to October its creemee window is a go-to for locals. Vanilla and chocolate are on tap but the coffee-maple twist is far and away the best-seller. Whatever you get, try the cookie crumb topping.
6915 US-7, North Ferrisburgh, VT, 05473
Canteen is one of the few places that serves creemees year-round, and the list of flavors is constantly changing. The menu also includes seasonal creemee sundaes, like a strawberry and vanilla twist topped with cake crumbs, fresh local strawberries, whipped cream, and mint. (The fried chicken is A+, too.)
5123 Main Street, Waitsfield, VT, 05673
You won’t always find standard creemee flavors — not even maple — at Taco Gordo’s ice cream outpost in downtown Burlington. Horchata, coconut, matcha, strawberry, and others are among the rotating list, along with toppings like Froot Loops and Oreos. Check their Instagram daily to find out what’s on tap.
71 S. Union Street, Burlington, VT, 05401