When you’ve been eating little more than luke-warm beans out of a can rolling around the back of a Jeep for a few weeks, a day of free samples is a day to go down in the history books. Out of all the states that I’ve been too, I found more delicious free samples in Vermont than anywhere else. More specifically, the Waterbury area is a malnourished gal’s wet dream.
With minimal travel time in between, here are some amazing places to fill up on free stuff while driving through the Green Mountain State.
Cold Hollow Cider Mill
There aren’t a ton of samples here, but it’s still worth a stop so you can say you’ve been to a cider mill. Make your way through the gift shop and satisfy your need for consumerism as you scour the tables for food laying out. There are a couple homemade jams and mustards with pretzel sticks near the door, so push people out of the way until you see where the grub is.
As you walk to the back of the mill, you can pour yourself a tiny glass of free apple cider and watch an informational video about how they make the stuff. Apparently there’s an apple shortage this year, because the mill limits you to one tiny cup per person (that is, unless no one’s looking). Unfortunately, these folks don’t really believe in hard cider.
Unlike some winery tastings, this one isn’t actually free so you’ll have to pull two whole dollars out of your pocket to get some sips. Although the actual winery is in East Calais, they have a tasting room directly across from the cider mill so you don’t have to re-park your car.
You get to taste six wines for your Washingtons, and the portions are smaller than average. All the wines they produce are fruit wines, rather than grape wines, so everything is really sweet and refreshing. The cost of most bottles is in the $14 range, but buying one would have broken the golden rule of Free Sample Day.
Hands down, Cabot Cheese wins the award for Best Free Samples in Vermont. Drop your car off in their parking lot and stick your head through the cow cut-outs to snap a picture as you walk in the front door. A gift shop welcomes you as you walk in and there’s plenty of local beer for sale in their coolers as well.
The free cheese sample bar has about twenty-five different samples of cheese, all of which are amazing. One side of the sample bar has standard flavors of cheese that you see everywhere, and the other side has random flavors like Tomato Basil, Hand-rolled Tuscan, and Horseradish. But the samples don’t stop there! The sides of the bar and nearby tables feature popcorn with Cabot cheese sprinkle, cheese dips, and butter dips. Grab a handful of toothpicks and settle in for the long haul!
Leave your car parked at Cabot Cheese and walk your cheese hangover off across the parking lot over here. I didn’t expect to find too many samples here because fancy chocolate can get pretty pricey, but there were two sample areas at this chocolate shop. Most of the shop is filled with things to buy, but if you venture up towards the counters, you’ll see some lonely chocolate pieces lying about.
As you snack on a square or two of free chocolate, read through the shop’s recommendations for chocolate tastings. That way, you’ll feel (and look) like you’re learning something about what you’re tasting instead of just scarfing it all down like a fatty.
When I first saw a sign for this place, I didn’t even consider stopping because I assumed a cannery was all about jellies and jams. But much to my surprise, there was beer inside! Oddly enough, this brewery (that brews in only cans) only makes one type of beer. It’s an 8% double IPA called the Heady Topper. As a newly emerging fan of certain types of IPAs, I must say that their one creation is pretty delicious.
We received two 3-ounce samples for free at their tasting room, which was situated among rows of brew-themed merchandise. Their “self guided tour” was more of a room that you could walk into and take a look at the brewing equipment from afar. They usually sell cans of beer at the tasting room, but happened to have run out this particular day. I guess I’m not the only one who liked it.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory
Although the sample of ice cream is “free,” there is a catch. You have to take the factory tour, but it only costs $4 per person, which is just $4 away from free. The tour starts with a seven minute video about their company that actually didn’t put me to sleep. My very pink monkey in socks, Ginger (a.k.a. Dunkey), accompanied me on this tour because she’s as big of an ice cream fan as I am.
You can’t take any pictures through their production area, but a perky teenage guide will point to different pieces of machinery and sort of tell you what each does. After listening as long as your attention span allows, your guide leads you into the tasting room for a sample. Mint chocolate chunk was on the menu this particular day.
Hang around after everyone takes their sample, because there will likely be leftovers for you to snag on the way out. The portions were decently sized, and you can always stand in line to buy another bowl after the tour if you’re truly hardcore.
Needless to say, I didn’t need to eat any beans for lunch or instant noodles for dinner on this particular day in Vermont. Whether you’re looking to get a taste of local goods or just be cheap about your dietary intake, free samples are the way to go. And in my experience, free samples are harder to come by in the rest of New England, so stock up while you can!