June 01, 2006

A Tour of Blue Bell Country

I finally got around to taking the tour of the Blue Bell Creameries. Blue Bell, in case you didn't know, manufactures the best tasting ice cream in the whole world.

I'd never visited previously for a couple of reasons:

1) Nobody visits what's in their own backyard until somebody comes to town who wants to go there. None of my visitors have ever wanted to go there.

(Confession time--I didn't even visit NASA's Johnson Space Center until I was 36 years old--the whole space, astronaut and moon thing went down right in the middle of my old stomping grounds and I never venutured inside the gates until an out-of-town guest insisted.)

2) I'm kind of squeamish about milk products (they're actually kind of gross); they're one of those things that even though I like to eat them, I don't like to share them off my spoon and I sure don't want to see how they're made. The possibility of the sight of one person actually touching the milk might have put me off of ice cream forever. Didn't want to take a chance.

(I once had a co-worker who had worked in a lab at Borden's Milk. Her job was tasting milk samples all day long. They couldn't have paid me all the money in the world to do that job.)

I was prompted to go to Brenham (location of the company headquarters and plant) that particular day because I was in the area hooking up with an out-of-state friend who was in Warrenton for the twice-yearly Round Top antique show and I needed to kill some time.

The tour costs $3 and you get free Blue Bell Ice cream at the end. How better to pass the time? The tour guides were both friendly and knowledgeable. I learned quite a bit about some of the company policies that help explain why their product is so good. There was nothing that contributed to my dairy product problem--I still wanted to eat ice cream when the tour was over.

I was only mildly disappointed that there were no Blue Bell advertising cookbooks or recipe pamphlets in sight.

Some of the things I learned from the tour:

1) If I ever had to work in Brenham, then I would apply at Blue Bell because the employees and their families get free ice cream.

2) Blue Bell uses the milk from cows on local farms (I believe she said within a 200 mile radius) to make the ice cream. We can almost classify this as home-grown, as hard as it is to buy food produced by local farmers in the Houston area.

3) Although they're the third best-selling ice cream in the country, they serve only 17% of the market. That's pretty impressive.

4) They don't pay for shelf space in the supermarkets here. Again, pretty impressive.

5) In order to ensure top product quality control, Blue Bell employees handle the product every bit of the way from production to delivery.

I have a new favorite flavor: Lemon Ice Box Pie. It tastes exactly like that pie that's made with a graham cracker crust, whipped topping and frozen lemonade concentrate. Unfortunately, it's one of their rotating flavors which means that I have to wait another year before I can have any more.

If you're not lucky enough to live in one of the places where you can buy Blue Bell locally, and you have deep enough pockets (for the shipping cost), you can order it from their website. Or, you can go down to Outback Steakhouse, which are everywhere in Generica, and at least try the Homemade Vanilla. Blue Bell is the brand of ice cream Outback serves with their desserts. The manager might even be kind enough to order a big tub of it for you.

Also, dry ice will keep 4 or 6 gallons nicely frozen in your cooler for about 24 hours. This information is gained from personal experience hauling it around to friends from those unfortunate states who must do without.


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