Ben and Jerry add celebrity power to Zeno’s ‘cook-off’

LINCOLN — As the inventers of renowned flavors like Cherry Garcia and Phish Food, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield know a winning ice cream flavor when they taste it. But this Monday, the founders of arguably the most popular name in ice cream faced a challenge. For the third year, they trained their finely tuned taste buds on the flavor, texture, color and composition of seven flavors of ice cream, designed and named by the campers and management of Zeno Mountain Farm; a decision that was anything but easy.
Located high in the Green Mountains, Zeno Mountain Farm specializes in providing summer activities to people of all abilities. This summer, 70 campers, some with cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, autism and traumatic brain injuries, participate in the same activities as any summer camp plus a few more. Earlier this month, the camp designed their float for the Fourth of July Parade through downtown Bristol.
“We’re one big, diverse group of friends,” Will Halby, one of the founders of Zeno explained. “Some of us need help in some ways, others of us need help in other ways, but we don’t put a hierarchy on what those things are.” 
But this past Saturday the entire camp’s focus was on ice cream.
Speaking in the kitchen at the camp before the start of the contest, Ben Cohen described the criteria for a winning flavor.
“We’re looking for something that’s not run-of-the-mill,” he said. “I personally am looking for good texture. I’ll say that just by looking at the names, something with a good milk base and malted milk balls has potential.”
Greenfield, on the other hand, offered no hints.
“How can you simplify it that much?” he said.
Each of the six cabins plus the Zeno management team presented judges with an imaginative flavor prepared by John Moyers, one of Zeno’s cooks, who also emceed the event. The lineup was as follows:
•  Dogfood: Vanilla with cookie dough and a maple cinnamon swirl
•  Dirty Grandpa: chai with expresso ice cream with cookie dough and chocolate chunks
•  Sm’ore-gasboard: vanilla base with chunks of chocolate, marshmallow, graham cracker and a maple swirl
•  It Yurts to Taste This Good: peach base with peach chunks marinated in a maple swirl
•  Minty Balls: mint base with fresh mint and malted milk balls
•  Mud-stachio: Chocolate and fudge base with pistachios, chocolate chunks and sea salt     
•  Island Vacation (management flavor): Coconut milk ice cream with almond milk, rosemary and spicy grilled pineapple
Deliberations proceeded slowly as the judges made their way through each of the seven sample-sized bowls. After ten minutes of comparing notes, Cohen and Greenfield announced a decision had been reached.            
Dirty Grandpa received some positive remarks but was ultimately faulted for having too large cookie batter chunks. The flavor It Yurts to Taste This Good drew rave reviews for its color and texture but was discounted for an inadequate cinnamon swirl. The management’s flavor was dismissed as a good idea, but too poorly executed to be seriously considered.
The Mud-stachio flavor impressed the judges, however the level of sea salt proved too heavy.
“We think this flavor is conceptually amazing,” Cohen said. “We would love to eat it were it not for the overwhelming level of saltiness suitable for French fries.”
Cohen also said the company would provide Zeno with a specially formulated variety of low-melting point chocolate to continue to improve the flavor.
But Dogfood, the winning flavor, was so good; Cohen kneeled and bowed to it – three times ­­– and following the presentation of the “Golden Cone” trophy, the audience moved outside to try the flavors for themselves.
The camp includes year-around activities. The winter program includes downhill skiing at Sugarbush’s Mount Ellen with Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports as well as bob sledding, basketball, yoga and snowball fights.
Outside of their home base in Vermont, Zeno organizes sports camps in Los Angeles and Jenson Beach, Fl, where teams train for and compete in windsurfing, outrigger canoes, weight training, tennis, yoga and soccer. Another program in Los Angeles produces short films and exhibits them at film festivals throughout the country.
Guiding these programs, Halby says, is the motto “Make it matter.”
“We love it,” he said, describing participants’ commitment to the camp’s motto and its goals. “Sometimes people get upset and stressed out and that’s symbolic that we’re doing it right.”
The camp’s final project at the end of the month will be a camp-wide show, which is planned to be a prequel to the popular musical “Grease.”
“Everything we do, we make it big and exciting,” Halby said. “We’re going to rock it for the rest of the month.” 

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