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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ice Cream and Maple Syrup

Wow, today is our last real day in Vermont. It seems as though we have planned and looked forward to this trip for months, and now it is almost over. There is still so much to do that we didn't get around to, but I guess that will leave it open to the sequel at some point in the future.
Today's agenda includes Ben and Jerrys, the Cider Mill, and hopefully, a tour of a sugar house. On the way to Ben and Jerrys, we decide to stop off at a scenic waterfall that we have pasted several times. It visible just as you exit I-89 at the Waterbury exit (Route 100 north). Each time we pass it, we decide to stop and take a look, but never took the time. So now is the time. Traveling south on Route 100 almost to I-89 then left just before the ramp, then an immediate right through an older residential and commercial area of town. There is an old mill near the waterfall that has been converted sometime past into a reataurant. However there is a small park area just behind the mill/restaurant with a sign up inviting you to go and enjoy the view. Out back of the restaurant there is a platform built over the edge of the creek where you can see the water rushing down the rocks for about a 15-20 foot drop into the little pool right behind the mill. We are not sure what kind of mill this used to be as there is no signs or anything else we can see to provide that information, just the quaint view, and time for a couple of pictures.

A little later we are on our way to Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Factory. This place is obviously a destination in this part of the country and when we reach the parking lot the place is already full. We have to go up the hill to the auxilary parking lots where a lot of RV's and Tour busses had parked. The walk down to the factory welcome center takes us past the "Graveyard of Flavors Layed to Rest". There is actually a headstone for some of the varieties of ice cream that they do not produce any longer.
As we approach the large patio/deck area behind the welcome center, we notice that there is a large tent set up with several tables under it. As it so happens, today is the final announcement of the Ben and Jerry's New Flavor Contest winners. This turns out to be a pretty big deal for dedicated B&J fans. Over the past few months of the contest, they have collected over 40,000 entries from fans across the country suggesting a new flavor of ice cream for B&J to make and sell. Today the 5 finalist have been brought to the factory to have the factory make their new flavor and then put it before a panel of expert tasters to determine the winner. There was also an international division with 5 international finalist too.

We bought the tickets for the factory tour and that was interesting - although not nearly as interesting as the Cabot Cheese Factory we saw the other day. I think part of it had to do with our tour guide. He was a teenaged guy that really had a case of the "smart alexs" so to speak, and was not nearly as entertaining or informative as he thought he was.
We were able to sample a couple of flavors of ice cream at the end of the tour which ended where it started in the large gift shop. Outside on the open deck, we just had to visit the scoop shop and buy a cone or cup of our favorite flavor.

Shortly after 1:00 PM the music started and the taste panel for the contest was introduced and got right to their business. After sampling all and making comments on each, a winner was voted. They made it clear that the winner would not necessarily become B&Js next marketable flavor, but it (or any of the others) could be as some point in the future. Then we were able to sample the flavors that had been part of the contest.

Time to walk a little so we went over to the Cold Hollow Cider mill for a look around. Here is a cider press that makes many many gallons of apple cider daily. By the time we arrive, they had finished pressing for the day, but we could still see the press through a large window. Again, there is a large gift shop where all sorts of items from apple preserves, apple jelly, apple cider, apple butter, apple/maple syrup, apple crafts, apple tee shirts... well you get the idea.

After getting our fill of apples, along with several bus loads of folks from Georgia on tour busses, we stopped at a place that sells Vermont Teddy Bears, Chocolate, and of course Maple candy and syrup, and, what else,, more Cabot Cheese. ( I TOLD you we were doing all the tourists stuff today.)

Late in the afternoon, we realized that we still had not been to see a real working sugar house. There is one listed in one of the Stowe area maps that is not too far from here, so we go up the mountain following the directions on the map.

Nebraska Valley Sugar Farm is the name of the place. We arrive at the top of the narrow gravel road thinking that maybe we turned at the wrong place. This is someone's home with a barn and out buildings out back. But there are a couple of cars here, and a small sign pointing to the the sugar house.

As we walk around behind the house, we see the entrance to a building that is the sugar house. Inside it is very small with a desk and kitchen style cabinets around the walls. A small table has a sampling of each size and tyhpe of syrup and candy they sell. There is a lady at the desk, but as it turns out, she is a tourist too. Instructions on the desk indicate that you can buy all you want and payment is honor system. Put your money in the cash box and write down each of the items you buy and their quantity on the sheet of paper on the desk.

It turns out that the people that run the farm also run a construction business, and according to someone we just met, they also teach piano lessons. The ski's and snowshoes stacked outside the back door indicate that there is a lot more snow here than anything we are accustomed to down south. Opening the back door we find the workings of the sugar house...large boiler, stacks of wood cut and cured and ready for spring. Large pans over the boiler where the sap is boiled down to make the syrup. There is also a large filter room where the sap is filtered for impurities. These guys have all of their charts from years gone by posted on the walls around the room, with the statistics on the yield from each year going back to the early 1980s. It looks like they tap more than 4000 trees! Seems like a lot to me, but I know absolutely nothing about maple sap except what I read about in school more than 40 years ago. How much could it have changed since then? I guess that means that they collect and haul buckets of sap down the mountains from over 4000 trees? Wrong!

Looking behind the sugar house we see that there is a large network of plastic piping all through the forest on the mountain side. This network gravity feeds a large holding tank in another building just up the hillside from the boiler house. Sap is collected there, then piped down to the filters and boiler pans as needed. I guess like everything else, they have figured a way to do more with less labor.

We could not walk up the mountain to see how the trees were actually tapped, so if anyone knows how they do that, please leave a comment here and let me know. I'll include that information in an update.

Backtracking down Nebraska Valley Road we take a left up over the hill back toward Stowe. This gravel road takes us through some very pretty farms and eventually to the Trapp Family Lodge. This hugh resort set on the mountainside overlooking the valley is named for the Von Trapp Family of "Sound of Music" fame. The place looks like an Austrian lodge and is a busy place here in the middle of peak leaf peeping season. We pause for a few pictures and continue on our route to Stowe.

Riding through the countryside north of Stowe in search of another covered bridge, brings us to the Foxfire Inn north of Stowe on Route 100. This is where we will have dinner tonight. It is an old house built in the 1800s and has been the home of one of the best Italian food restaurants in the area for many years.
The place is packed (luckily we had called for reservations earlier in the day) and we really enjoyed the atmosphere. Most of the rooms of the old house had tables set up as you would expect of a restaurant, but some were outfitted as private dining rooms for parties, and had a residential feel with large china cabinets, chairs, lamps and a large dining table. A couple of rooms simply were decorated as "parlors" for waiting with sofa, chairs, coffee table,and antique lamps.

I admit I picked this place due to a recommendation I recieved prior to taking this trip, and was a little dissappointed. The food was just not as good as I had expected. It was good, no question about that, I was just expecting more. Maybe we just had so much Ice cream earlier today that it "spoiled my dinner" as my Mama would say.

Now for the sad parting of ways. We have spend the past 3 1/2 days with our special friends from Texas and tomorrow we would have to go home. Their flight leaves at about noon, meaning they would have to leave for the airport at 9:30 or 10:00 AM. And we have a long way to go in the camper tomorrow too to get us back to North Caroling by Saturday night. So we will be saying our goodbyes as we drop them off at the hotel. It has been a wonderful trip, but we are sad to see them go.

But that just means that it will be a little closer to our next opportunity to vacation with them next year.

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