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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

The secret of creemee culture: A deep dive into Vermont's signature frozen treat

Picture this: it is 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in May, and you're sprawled out on McCullough lawn with your friends. Classes are done for the week, and you are discussing weekend plans. It is one of those rare, but amazing, days when the clouds disappear, and the temperature creeps up to 70 degrees.

This is what you have been waiting for since the first snowfall in November: this is spring in Vermont. “We could go to the gorge!” one of your friends says. “We should get creemees,” another suggests.

Here it comes, the classic debate: what is a creemee, anyway? Forget regional language differences like “soda” and “pop” — travel just 25 minutes west over the New York border and you’ll have to order soft serve instead.

According to Charles Menard, owner of Canteen Creemee Company in Waitsfield, “the name creemee, to [my] understanding, really comes from our French-Canadian heritage.”

A Vermont Public Radio feature from 2018 states that more than 16,000 French-Canadians had immigrated to Vermont by 1860, which might explain the origins of “creemee” and the term’s local popularity.

The French word for cream, crème, could have created this persistent language difference, Menard said. “Maybe it was a little kid who said it wrong, or who knows, but creemee stuck,” he added.

The history of the term is unclear to creemee makers in Addison County, too. But Menard and Kevin Archambeault, owners of Shiretown Marketplace in downtown Middlebury, agree that it all comes down to dairy.

“In Vermont, typically, and I know this isn’t true across the board, when it's referred to as [a] creemee’, it is usually the higher fat content [option],” Archambeault told The Campus.

Shiretown sells Hood’s 10% creemee mix, which is the highest fat content you can get among the 3.5%, 5% and 10% fat options. This is important to Archambeault, who said he wanted to “stick true” to the classic idea of the high-fat Vermont creemee.

The building that Shiretown now occupies on College Street is remembered by a lot of the Middlebury community as Lyons Place, a business open from the 1970s–90s, that is integral to Middlebury’s creemee history.

“Greg Lyons actually installed the first creemee machine here back in the early 1980s, and so everyone has sort of known this as a creemee spot, as well as a marketplace,” Archambeault said.

Archambeault added that he believes that creemees have been an important part of Vermont and Middlebury culture for decades, and by opening up the creemee window at Shiretown marketplace, he is trying to make that past part of the future as well.

“When we opened the creemee stand, what people had kept on saying was that Middlebury had been in a creemee drought over last summer because this place had been let go in April of last year,” Archambeault said of the previous business in Shiretown’s current building, Shafer’s Market & Deli.

The impact of temporary lack of creemees in Middlebury was evident in the community’s excitement about Shiretown reviving the creemee window tradition, Archambeault said — “When we opened on August 19, 2022, we had no idea what the outpouring of the community would be, and it was absolutely insane. We did 384 creemees on the first day.”

Archambeault grew up in upstate New York, but said he had never heard the term “creemee” until he crossed the Vermont border. “I still feel like everything in Southern Vermont was still referred to as soft serve. Bennington and Manchester didn’t really use that terminology much,” he explained.

Menard, on the other hand, grew up in Vermont and heard the term “creemee” used frequently. When he decided to open Canteen Creemee Company as a road-side eatery, Menard wanted to reimagine the historic dessert.

“I really saw an opportunity to do something completely different and something that I didn’t see a lot of people doing at the time in this snack bar realm,” Menard said.

Canteen Creemee always has chocolate and maple, but they pride themselves on seasonal flavors such as basil, honey lemon, blueberry, strawberry and coffee, Menard said. “Sometimes even vanilla makes it into the mix,” he added.

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Shiretown carries the classic vanilla and chocolate flavors with a variety of topping options. . They also carry maple coated walnuts, a special product from Vermont Trade Winds Farm in Shoreham.

While this is Shiretown’s offering for people wanting the classic maple creemee fix, Archembeault said he actually recommends Burnham Maple Farm and Market on Route 7 for people searching for a classic maple creemee.

Not every dessert comes with such a lengthy history, but it makes for an even tastier experience. Whether you are craving a vanilla creemee with rainbow sprinkles — Archambeault’s favorite — or trying something new, there is a creemee for everyone in Middlebury.