Kirsten Schimoler knows her way around a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. In fact, she’s been developing new flavors for the last 7 years and is the brains behind our newest creation: Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy, a line of 4 delightfully euphoric certified vegan frozen dessert flavors. Made from delicious almond milk, they are a haven of delight for vegans and dairy-lovers alike.
We caught up with Kirsten to talk turkey, er, ice cream and get to know a bit more about the magic of flavor creation:
Let's start with some basics. How long have you been a Flavor Guru?
I have been a product developer at Ben & Jerry’s for almost 7 years and the “Non-Dairy Queen” for 2.5 of those.
What's your favorite part about this (truly heroic) job?
I love seeing fans enjoy the products I develop. Walking into a store and seeing a product that I spent months or years on is exciting. On a day-to-day basis, I really like doing trend research and seeing what’s going on in the food industry.
Do you remember the first flavor you developed?
Berry Voluntary and Brownie Chewgooder, which were both exclusive flavors for Target.
What's your favorite flavor that you've developed?
Chocolate Peppermint Crunch. It’s my interpretation of a childhood favorite of mine, Thin Mints. I also really loved Candy Bar Pie, it was sweet, salty, smooth, crunchy – it had it all!
What exactly is a food scientist (other than somebody who likes to play with their food)?
Food science is really an all-encompassing field and can lead to many different roles. At Ben & Jerry’s and in my life, there is a huge focus on the food part. Primarily, my job is to make creative new ice cream products; secondly, I need to make sure the food is safe and is of the highest quality. Ice cream is actually based on some cool science, so while I spend a lot of time tasting delicious things, I also spend some time doing really nerdy things, like looking at ice crystals under a microscope!
What was your reaction when you first learned about the Non-Dairy line? Excited about a new challenge, or a little hesitant about bringing Ben & Jerry's into unknown territory?
Oyyyy, to be honest, I was a little nervous, but I love a challenge. No one had done this before and we had no idea what the product should look like, so in the beginning it was a lot of trial and error, throwing spaghetti at the wall, if you will. It took me about 8 months and 50 versions of non-dairy base mix to get to a point where we agreed we could start adding chunks and swirls. I was on a deadline to get the product right to launch on time and I had a few moments of fear and doubt, but it turned out perfectly. I am so happy with where we landed.
Did you come up with the moniker "Non-Dairy Queen"?
Is it weird if I say yes? Can one actually nominate themselves to be Queen? Either way, there is a joke on my team that I am “princess,” as I am the only girl guru and my mom once visited my office and used the moniker. I have a cheapo plastic crown at my desk and sometimes it just feels right to wear it, it makes life better. As we were getting ready to launch the Non-Dairy product, I figured that after 2.5 years on the project I could upgrade to Queen. I think it’s time for a new crown, one that’s more fit for a queen!
Any silly stories from the flavor lab from developing the four Non-Dairy flavors? Crazy mishaps? Test batches that went hilariously wrong?
There was a lot of trial and error. A few batches of mix were way too thick, I couldn’t even pour them into the freezer, it was like 10 gallons of pudding. I have to be the guinea pig for everything I make, tasting it before I share it with others. One specific flavor profile kept being requested, so I tried so many different versions of it, but it just was awful. No matter how many times I said “it doesn’t work,” the requests kept coming, so finally I mixed up samples to share with teammates. After they tasted it, there was full agreement that we could stop pursuing it, as I wasn’t the only one who thought it tasted awful. There were also many times this year where I was in the factory, covered in ice cream at 3:00 am.
Which of the four is your favorite Non-Dairy flavor?
This is a hard one, it is like picking a favorite child, you can’t choose just one. You love them all for a different reason. Chunky Monkey has been my favorite flavor since I was a kid and I love the Non-Dairy version.
Are there any toppings that you would suggest to go with any of the flavors?
The Chocolate Fudge Brownie would be great with some fruit, like raspberries, cherries or strawberries. Almond butter would be a great topping too! For Chunky Monkey, I would love to throw some toasted coconut on top.
How do you think the non-dairy-dessert-seeking public is going to like this new creation from Ben & Jerry's?
From what I have seen so far, I think they will love it! The flavors are loaded with the chunks and swirls that Ben & Jerry’s is known for, and that will add a lot of excitement to the category.