When is a milkshake not a milkshake? In New England, of course, when it’s a frappe (or a cabinet). Confused? Let’s break down the delicious difference between a milkshake, frappe, and cabinet.
According to the American Heritage College Dictionary, a milkshake is a “a beverage that is made of milk, ice cream, and often flavoring and is blended or whipped until foamy.” Unless you live in New England, where a milkshake would never include ice cream. Adding ice cream makes it a “frappe” drink.
As a teenager, I worked for a popular ice cream stand, Kimball Farm, in my hometown of Westford, Massachusetts, and like most jobs dealing with food and/or “visiting” customers, I spent a decent amount of time explaining things on the menu. Some questions relating to New England ice cream flavorswere normal (What’s in Frozen Pudding ice cream? You don’t want to know) but others were uniquely regional – the kinds of things a local might know (What are jimmies?), but had others feeling puzzled.
The number one “from away” question? “What’s a frappe?”
Sometimes it got very “Who’s on first” kinds of confusing. Here’s a typical re-creation:
Customer: “I’d like a chocolate milkshake, please.”
Me: “Do you mean a milkshake or a frappe?”
Customer: “I mean a milkshake – with ice cream.”
Me: “If you want ice cream, you want a frappe. A milkshake just has milk and syrup.”
Customer: “Uhm…I’d like whatever has the ice cream.”
Today I’ve made a classic chocolate frappe with 3 scoops of chocolate ice cream, a generous splash of milk, and thick drizzle of chocolate syrup. I put all of my frappe ingredients into a tall glass fridge jug with an opening that perfectly fits my immersion blender (or “stick” blender), and then pulsed away until I had a thick and rich concoction – namely, a chocolate frappe.
I don’t know why we call the delicious mix of ice cream, milk, syrup, and sometimes malt powder a frappe (pronounced “frap”) here in New England, but when you really think about it, a milkshake shouldn’t be anything other than shaken (NOT stirred) milk and syrup. And a frappe, which sounds funny and looks elegant with those double p’s, must (of course) be the fancier of the two, meaning the one with the ice cream. It makes perfect sense.
Now for those who wonder if a chocolate milkshake in New England is basically just a glass of chocolate milk, the answer is a resounding NO. Chocolate milk is the casual stirring of chocolate syrup into a glass of milk. A chocolate milkshake is the vigorous shaking (or blending) of the two until the consistency is perfectly creamy and a frothy head is formed. I used the same stick blender is a tall glass pitcher to make this drink as well.
Finally, to make matters even more confusing, if you’re from certain parts of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, you order a cabinet.
What is a cabinet? Basically it’s the same thing as a frappe (usually coffee-flavored and made with Autocrat Coffee Syrup), but it got its name because that’s where the blender was kept. We like to keep milkshake-loving tourists on their toes here in New England!
So, readers…which name do you prefer? Milkshake, frappe, or cabinet? And which flavor is best?
This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.