It can be said that a Jewish holiday is heavily defined by the iconic food associated with it. Rosh Hashanah has the apple and honey; Passover has matzah and disappointing cake; Hanukkah has potato latkes and donuts – the list goes on.
Shavuot, of course, is associated with cheesecake – but that’s not everything. A dairy delight that can be said to define Shavuot is another widely popular dessert: ice cream.
Now, why is this? Quite simply, we eat ice cream on Shavuot because we eat dairy, whereas on most holidays we eat meat. Why do we eat dairy? That’s a subject of considerable debate.
One popularly cited reason comes from the Chofetz Chayim’s Mishnah Berurah, which was a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch. The explanation here is that at the time of Shavuot, the festival which commemorates receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, the halachot for kashrut, specifically regarding meat, hadn’t been given yet. Because of this, the ancient Israelites in the desert, who already agreed to “do and listen” to the Torah, likely wanted to play it safe and not violate any of these new laws, so they only ate dairy.
Others cite the old maxim of the Land of Israel being the “land of milk and honey,” which may have led to the holiday’s association with sweet dairy products.
And yet another opinion comes from an 18th-century hassidic master, Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Ropshitz, who argued that the Hebrew word for milk, halav, had the gematria (numerological value) of 40. This, he explained, was significant because it matched up with the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai praying for the forgiveness of the Israelites after another cow-related incident – the sin of the golden calf. It is for this reason, too, that Jews traditionally stay up all night learning Torah on Shavuot, often while eating ice cream.
But that’s just a religious understanding. What about ice cream in Israel today?
As a hot Middle Eastern country, there is often nothing like some good ice cream to help you to chill out on a sweltering summer’s day. The Jewish state has no shortage of classic ice cream flavors and manufacturers.
Arguably, the country’s most prominent ice cream producer is the Strauss Group, which sells many different varieties of the dairy dessert. These include the iconic – for Israel, at least – brands of Magnum and Cremissimo. This isn’t too surprising, as Strauss is Israel’s largest food conglomerate. As stated on their website, the company had been in the ice cream business since 1949 and started its first ice cream factory in 1962.
However, what many people don’t know is that their ice cream division is actually a separate entity, having spun off into a private firm – jointly owned by themselves and Unilever – before Unilever purchased the entirety of it in 2014, though the ice cream is still made here.
NOW UNILEVER too is no stranger to the ice cream game, being the owner of many popular brands. But chief them is one started by Jews, which has since spread across the world: Ben & Jerry’s.
Everyone in Israel knows Ben & Jerry’s, for better or for worse. This ice cream giant has a global reach, and its colorful and elaborate flavors are some of the most beloved items in every supermarket freezer section. For many Israelis, though, it is best known as the company that tried to boycott the Jewish state by freezing all sales in the West Bank.
What is not widely known, however, is that Ben & Jerry’s in Israel isn’t actually made by the company – it is made domestically – barring the vegan ice cream, which has now gone.
Ben & Jerry’s Israel was sold by Unilever to American Quality Products, and their ice cream is still made at their factory near Yavne. All of their ice cream is now made in Israel, and the original Ben & Jerry’s company doesn’t make any profit from it.
But even though the owners have changed, the ice cream remains the same: Ben & Jerry’s is widely considered to be some of the best ice cream available in Israel.
But what is the best of the best, and how does Ben & Jerry’s stack up against the Unilever-owned Strauss fare?
With that in mind, for the sake of the general public, the good people at In Jerusalem undertook a selfless mission: eating the two different brands and reporting back to you, our esteemed readers. Yes, it’s a hard job, but no one ever said journalism would be easy – and it is certainly sweet.
What are the best Ben & Jerry’s flavors?
In The Jerusalem Post office, a lot of work was done to figure out which Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was the best.
We asked around, made a short list, then bought a selection of ice cream to share in the office to get a thorough and in-depth understanding of each flavor.
One flavor that was often mentioned was mint choc chip, but this was not included in the taste test owing to the writer’s aversion to eating something that tastes like cold toothpaste. (Note: In Jerusalem editor Erica Schachne strongly disagrees with this assertion, though she would prefer that Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie be colored a more electric green.)
Instead, we tasted some of the simple and more famous flavors suggested by our staff. In addition, we compared three different types of chocolate ice cream – one from Ben & Jerry’s, one from the Strauss Cremissimo brand, and one from its Magnum brand – to see which is really the best of the best.
First, the flavors:
This flavor is described by Ben & Jerry’s as being a combination of vanilla, chocolate and banana ice cream filled with solid chunks – as the name implies.
So, what did our staff think of it? Some liked it:
“Not bad,” said Jerusalem Post duty editor Ori Lewis. “The chunks are dry, but it’s a good contrast to the rest of it.”
Others, however, were not so enthused:
“I’m not a fan of the banana flavor,” said Post legal affairs reporter Michael Starr.
While normally a fan of banana flavor, this reporter agrees with Starr that Chunky Monkey isn’t so good. (To be fair, while the rest were purchased the day of testing, this flavor had been sitting in the communal freezer for a few days.)
Cookies & Cream
Another iconic flavor, this one mixes solid cookie-ness with an abundance of cream to create a blend of tastes and textures. Everyone loves cookies and cream, right?
Well, it turns out that might not be the case. In fact, it seems this specific variation is only sold in Israel, with international markets selling Milk & Cookies and Sweet Cream & Cookies instead.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that this flavor too wasn’t so widely loved in the office.
“There’s more cream than there is cookie,” Starr said. “I’d prefer having more cookie than cream.”
“I don’t particularly like this. It’s very bland,” Lewis concurred.
Others, however, raved about it.
“It’s a classic,” said breaking news desk manager Ariella Marsden. “You can’t go wrong with it.”
“It’s basically a fruit salad!”Erica Schachne
Now, this flavor is something else!
As a tribute to Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, it is easily the brand’s most famous flavor – named after the celebrity.
Defined by its chocolate and cherries mixed in with the ice cream itself, its taste has endeared itself to ice cream lovers the world over.
Naturally, it was a hit in the office.
“It takes me back to the days of ice cream sundaes,” Schachne said.
Post archivist Elaine Moshe agreed, “It’s like having a sundae with the cherry on top.”
The strongest endorsement for this flavor, though, came from Post editor-in-chief Avi Mayer:
“What’s unique about Cherry Garcia is that you have the chocolate, which is good enough to satisfy the chocolate purists. But you also have the fruit, which is a pleasant surprise and maybe has some nutritional value.”
“It’s basically a fruit salad!” noted Schachne, quite seriously, and Mayer emphatically agreed.
Originally, we tried to get hold of some other flavors like Netflix N’ Chill’d and Phish Food. However, we couldn’t find any, so we had to settle for S’mores.
This reporter found it delicious and happily had s’more S’mores.
And others here in the office agreed.
“I love the delicate flavor, the little pieces of chocolate are just right.”Ariella Marsden
“I love the delicate flavor, the little pieces of chocolate are just right,” said Marsden. “However, the little pieces of chocolate are all I can really distinguish. It doesn’t feel like the marshmallows and graham crackers come out in the flavor.”
It’s almost Shavuot, so of course, a cheesecake-related flavor was a must.
Strawberry cheesecake is an iconic flavor. It’s rich, it’s creamy, it’s sweet and has a great consistency. There’s no surprise that Ben & Jerry’s ranked it their sixth most popular flavor in 2022.
However, not everyone agrees.
“It’s good,” Marsden said. “But not as good as the others.”
“It was disappointing. It doesn’t taste like cheesecake at all.”Ruth Beloff
“It was disappointing,” said copy editor/proofreader Ruth Beloff. “It doesn’t taste like cheesecake at all.”
Peanut Butter Cup
This is the best flavor, and not just because it is this writer’s personal favorite. Indeed, it seems many at the Post agree.
Tucking into a scoop of this brings in the full experience of a Reese’s peanut butter cup with all the ice cream goodness of Ben & Jerry’s in a perfectly seamless combination.
Most at the paper concur.
“I’d get out of bed for this,” Schachne said. “It’s so good, I’d eat it for dinner.”
“I just love it,” Moshe said. “The chunks of peanut butter cup are great.”
“It is indeed the ice cream manifestation of a Reese’s peanut butter cup,” Mayer said. “It’s remarkable how they were able to transform such a delightful confection without adulterating it.”
Of course, opinions are rarely universal, and even here, there were dissenting opinions.
“Not a big fan,” said Lewis.
NOW IT’S time to compare the three chocolate ice creams.
First up, we have Magnum, which is typically defined by a hard candy exterior. We chose a crunchy and somewhat nutty chocolate ice cream.
While not liked as much as Ben & Jerry’s, this ice cream still has a warm place in many hearts.
“It’s the taste of my childhood,” mused Post diplomacy reporter Lahav Harkov. “It reminds me of when I’d come to Israel every summer.”
Others were less positive.
“I’d eat it,” Starr said, “if it was all there was on a really hot day.”
Next up is Cremissimo. Typically sold in long plastic tubs, this ice cream is highly recognizable in Israel. However, it simply isn’t that good. One common criticism is that the first ingredient is water. It’s sweet, but not sweet enough, and the chocolate flavor was barely noticeable.
“I just use the empty tub for chad pa’ami (disposable tableware),” Schachne said.
Marsden summed it up the best: She simply gave it a thumbs down.
This Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was a big hit in the office, compared to all the others.
“This is REAL chocolate ice cream,” Starr said.
“Cremissimo’s first ingredient is water. That’s not ice cream, that’s ice water with milk powder,” Schachne said. “Fudge brownie? That’s the way it should be. I’m not a chocoholic, but I’d happily have more of this.”
“It’s very rich, and it’s just fully chocolate,” said breaking news desk editor Joanie Margulies. “You’re not wondering if it’s mixed with anything else. The little bits of brownie are just extra chocolate. It’s like they added more chocolate to your chocolate.”
“Hmm, needs further study,” said copy editor Ilan Chaim as he promptly took more.
Still, overall, some people have issues with Ben & Jerry’s. The biggest complaint is that their flavors are too complicated, which can be overwhelming.
“Sometimes there are too many chunks and not enough ice cream,” said Beloff.
“It can have too many bells and whistles,” added Schachne.
Regardless, there is one prevailing opinion regarding ice cream in general, stated so succinctly by copy editor Fern Allen: “They’re all better when they’re a little melted.”
Considering how many plastic spoons were broken trying to get into the ice cream since we didn’t have a proper ice cream scoop, that’s something we can all agree on. ❖