You’re not imagining things: Food PR stunts have steadily been getting wilder over the past few years. My office desk is currently cluttered with just a small sample of what I’ve accumulated, including MTN DEW Baja Blast hot sauce, Velveeta cheese-scented nail polish, and Arby’s curly-fry-flavored vodka, among other bizarre limited-time offerings. We’re living in an age of chaotic consumer goods, and one brand that has consistently embraced that chaos is Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, which has just released a collaboration with Hidden Valley Ranch.
Starting today, March 20, the new Hidden Valley Ranch ice cream is currently available in Walmart locations across the country. Yup, that Hidden Valley Ranch. It’s part of a limited-time lineup that also includes decidedly more “normal” flavors including Blood Orange Chocolate Chip, Sweet Maple Cornbread, Carrot Cake, Honey Graham Cracker, Limoncello Cake, and Strawberry Shortcake.
The internet’s reactions to this flavor announcement are mostly what you’d expect. Eater responded with exasperation, PopSugar demonstrated some curiosity, and social media users have mostly expressed revulsion of some sort.
It’s time to see how we feel about this stuff for ourselves.
Van Leeuwen sent The Takeout a sample of the Hidden Valley Ranch ice cream, and I can’t say this is the most excited we’ve ever been to conduct a taste test. However, previous Van Leeuwen stunt flavors have pleasantly surprised us in the past. The Kraft Mac and Cheese collab was actually pretty darn good. So I tried to go in with an open mind, knowing that Van Leeuwen thinks hard about these flavors and treats them with care.
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The Hidden Valley Ranch ice cream looks like a regular pint of vanilla bean, which is to say it’s white with little black flecks in it. But the smell that immediately starts wafting up from the surface is one of savory garlic and onion, and it isn’t subtle.
In case you’ve forgotten, ranch dressing is made primarily from a combination of buttermilk, sugar, salt, egg yolk, garlic, onion, and vinegar. And wow, that first spoonful of ice cream really tugs you in multiple directions. It offers an initial hit of smooth, sweet vanilla with a silky texture, but the more the ice cream it warms up in your mouth, the more those ranchy herbs and spices start to bloom.
This moment was a fork in the road for our team of taste testers. I watched managing editor Marnie Shure visibly wince as the ranch flavor kicked in. Staff writer Angela Pagán continued to enjoy the vanilla ice cream aspects, and she didn’t happen to notice the ranch elements nearly as much. Other coworkers politely refused to try it altogether.
As for me, my mouth was frankly just confused. Here we had a premium vanilla ice cream, but one that left behind a tangy garlic and onion aftertaste that just wouldn’t quit. It wasn’t that it was bad, per se; it was just baffling. The ice cream’s quality is unquestionable, but the lingering aftertaste made me wonder just what the fuck I’d put in my mouth. Amazing.
It only seemed natural to pair the ice cream with something salty, so I dug around the office snack stash and fished out some plain potato chips. Honestly, this wasn’t a terrible combination. People like the combination of salty potato with dairy; just ask all those folks who love to dip their Wendy’s fries into a Frosty. Similarly, a bite of tangy ranch, sweet ice cream, and savory fried potato seemed to work just fine.
But was it great? My feelings were still quite mixed. I’m not much of a stoner, so I couldn’t see myself crushing a pint of this stuff on a random munchie bender. A friend suggested it’d be a good chaser to extremely hot Buffalo wings, or as a topper to chicken-fried steak, both of which are practical and creative ideas for using up a pint.
Obviously, though, that kind of brainstorming is more than a stunt product expects or deserves. Stuff like this is really just meant to catch our eye, and it certainly succeeds; we can only assume shoppers will linger in front of the Hidden Valley Ranch pints at Walmart, wondering if they’re being pranked. What a clever way, then, to direct people’s attention to Van Leeuwen’s line of new spring flavors, all of which sound like heaven compared to the ranch. If you leave with a pint of Sweet Maple Cornbread ice cream in your cart, then maybe this was never about Hidden Valley at all, was it?