The first time the Brooklyn-based artisanal ice cream company Van Leeuwen collaborated with Kraft to release a Mac & Cheese flavor, the immediate question that came to many people's minds was: Why? But for a surprising number of folks, the next question was: How can I get my hands on it?
When it comes to unexpected brand collaborations, it’s hard to shock anyone anymore. Even Martha and Snoop are old hat by now, a celebrity friendship with enough stans to support multiple seasons of a TV show. But it’s safe to say Van Leeuwen and Kraft did a pretty good job of almost breaking the internet when they released their cheesy, neon orange-colored ice cream in the summer of 2021.
Hoda and Jenna gave it a try, although Jenna had much higher hopes than Hoda going in, describing the flavor "as if two of my favorite things had a baby."
"It tastes just like mac and cheese frozen," said a skeptical Hoda. "The aftertaste reminds me of my kids’ dinner," Jenna said. "I don’t think it’s gross. In fact, I’m gonna go back for a little more."
Influencers across the internet weighed in with more reaction videos, which, good or bad, contributed to an insane amount of buzz around the limited release. Everyone wanted to try it for themselves; within an hour of going on sale online, the website crashed and the ice cream was sold out. It vanished in stores, too: According to Van Leeuwen, it scooped nearly 10,000 servings of the stuff until it was gone in a single day.
Well, if you felt left out of last summer’s viral taste sensation, I have good news for you: Kraft Mac & Cheese x Van Leeuwen Ice Cream is back, and now much more readily available, in 3,500 Walmart locations across all 50 states.
And this time, the now-famous wacky flavor has some wacky buddies in the freezer aisle. Van Leeuwen is continuing the cheese theme with a pizza-flavored ice cream featuring a mozzarella base with tomatoes and basil, plus other "new and fan favorite flavors" in the exclusive Walmart launch: Planet Earth, Hot Honey, Royal Wedding Cake, Bourbon Cherries Jubilee and Wild Blueberry Shortcake.
Thinking way outside the (Kraft) box, Ben Van Leeuwen, co-founder and CEO of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, said in a press release that the unexpected combos would win over new fans, calling them "unique and surprisingly delicious flavors that you would never expect to love as an ice cream." As with all its flavors, the brand’s emphasis on quality remains paramount: "We made these 7 exclusive flavors using the same artisanal processes and ingredients that we have been using to make our ice cream for the past 15 years … (including) thoughtfully sourced ingredients, from local jam makers to wild blueberries from Maine, to cookie bakers with a social mission."
Intrigued by the descriptions, I had to give these new flavors a try, so I enlisted the help of my cautiously optimistic family for a taste test. While not every pint was my personal cup of tea, it made for a very fun evening, a viral ice cream parlor that could only exist in 2022. I decided to rank each on two factors: creativity and deliciousness: Would I willingly eat this again?
Kraft Mac & Cheese
According to Van Leeuwen, its OG trend-setting flavor is made with "that buttery, sweet iconic cheese" to "remind you of the comforting bowl of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese you grew up with."
Unfortunately, it reminded my brother Nick of a different childhood staple: "This is like trying Bertie Botts' every flavor beans," he said. "Even the bogey flavor." His girlfriend, Ali, who is less inclined to make Harry Potter references in conversation, simply said she was "disturbed by the Kraft involvement. They're trying to make it a cheesy moment, but I don't want it."
The flavor is salty and buttery, just like … you know … a bowl of noodles. But while I am all for other forms of cheese in dessert, I had a hard time coming around on this one too.
On sight alone, I was worried: this flavor is electric blue and green thanks to spirulina almond ice cream with pieces of matcha cake. And on first taste, I knew this was definitely not for me: For some reason, the flavor that comes across immediately is strongly reminiscent of bubblegum. But others loved the color and how the bubblegum flavor somehow turns into almond the more you keep eating it. If you try really hard, you can tell yourself it's got a marzipan thing going on.
Van Leeuwen encourages us to "Put aside any notion that you can’t have your pizza and ice cream together in one crazy, but crazy delicious, flavor," so we put aside such notions, reluctantly. This one has "cream cheese and mozzarella ice cream with a tomato jam swirl and basil crust cookies!"
Unpromising though it sounded, it was a huge hit. "I'm sorry, but this is delicious," Ali said, proclaiming it "sweet and sultry." My brother agreed: "I guess it's pizza in its inspiration, but don't let the pizza scare you."
In the base, the cream cheese comes through more than the mozzarella does, and the tomato jam swirl is strongly reminiscent of strawberries, making it a creative yet recognizable twist on a classic: strawberry cheesecake. The basil crust cookies tasted like slightly herbal shortbread, and it all comes together in a very elegant way. Nick thought it could easily be served at a high-brow restaurant as an elevated version of something familiar (strawberry cheesecake, not pizza). This is the kind of mashup we can get behind, where the gimmick took a backseat to actual tastiness.
I knew this one would go over well in our crowd of spice lovers. For those of us who think hot honey improves almost anything dairy-related, you'll love how it's swirled throughout the vanilla base studded with bits of honeycomb, which add delicious crunch. In fact, our only complaint about this flavor was that there actually isn't that much of a kick to it. "That one is awesome," said my mom, the least likely of us to go for a gimmick.
Royal Wedding Cake
I thought this would be another easy win, but I was wrong — very wrong. Inspired by the cake served at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding 2018, Van Leeuwen says this is the closest the rest of us will get to feeling like a royal, which is, frankly, rude. But back to the flavor: "Floral, sweet cream cheese ice cream with chunks of lemon sponge cake with layers of elderflower frosting." Sounds nice, no? Maybe my group was doomed by our peasant taste buds, but most of us found this one gross. It has a strong soap taste that I found extremely off-putting. "It's a bit like eating perfume," Ali said, wincing.
Bourbon Cherries Jubilee
You know it, you love it. This is Cherry Garcia without the chocolate. It is familiar, and it would be familiar to your mom and your grandma, too. Nothing out of the box, but nothing not to love. The bourbon cherry compote is just plain delicious.
Wild Blueberry Shortcake
Vanilla ice cream blended with wild blueberries, swirled with some more for good measure and studded with chunks of shortcake. Again, what's not to love? This reminded me of summers at camp in Vermont and was another top crowd-pleaser.
These flavors are rotating through Walmart stores nationwide now.