Food by VICE

I Learned the Secret of the Perfect S'more with a Certified 'S'moreologist'

The resort that claims to have invented 'glamping' is embellishing the campfire dessert with truffles, prosciutto, and other surprising ingredients.

by Laura Studarus
Oct 10 2018, 10:29pm

Photos by Joshua Mellin

Even when surrounded by roaring rivers and starry skies, guests of Paws Up, a luxury camping site about 45 minutes outside of Missoula, Montana enjoy tents with indoor plumbing and personal butlers. Given the attention to detail and flair for decadence (as far as the great outdoors is concerned), it makes sense that the resort that claims to have coined the term “glamping” is pushing a new high-end concept: s'moreology. Yes, that’s the study of s’mores, those gooey campfire desserts we all know and get all over our hands.

As camp ‘s’moreologist’ Lucas Hillman explains, the concept of s'moreology is an extremely serious, quasi-scientific take on the famous handheld treat… well, one that should be taken with a sugar-coated tongue-in-cheek. (When not making s’mores, Hillman also serves as Paws Up’s glamping operations manager.) It all started on a lark, he reveals. Given that the fire-warmed graham cracker/marshmallow/chocolate combo has been popular for 91 years, (with a little help from The Girl Scouts, who first popularized the idea in their 1927 handbook), everyone felt it was time for an officially sanctioned upgrade.

“It was a joke,” Hillman confesses over a fireplace at Paws Up’s Cliffside camp. “We started introducing Reese's and Snickers. Alright. What else? Throw on some prosciutto! Some of the pairings started tasting pretty good. After that, the concept kept climbing.”

Two years ago, roughly four years into Paws Up tweaking its s’mores, the experiment was officially named s'moreology, a term cemented by the decorative pins s’moreologists started handing out to any guest willing to get their hands sticky. While the butler onboarding includes a lesson basic s’mores technique, Paws Up Executive Chief Sunny Jin began offering additional training to anyone interested in taking on the official title. Hillman was among the first volunteers.

Another butler, Haley Jacobson, compares the s'moreologist certification process to a candy-coated melee. (“They brought me a bin to work from!” she laughs. “It was like a S’more-off.”) However, the Paws Up Butler Handbook provides insight to the madness. Some of the expert, quasi-scientific guidelines s’moreologists follow include:

“Allowing your campfire to mellow to a mound of glowing embers will heat the marshmallow throughout the hot creamy texture, sealed with a light brown crust.”

“A young, dancing fire will quickly sear the marshmallow coating, keeping the interior cool and firm.”

And perhaps most tellingly, “It is encouraged for all butlers to develop their own personal touch to this service.”

For Hillman, years of s’mores have left him with strong opinions. (And no desire to make them while off-duty.) Cooking time: “to perfect golden brown.” (“Before doing this, [I] was a charcoal guy all the way.”) And presentation? Why smoosh sandwich-style when you can plate them in an Instagram-friendly deconstruction with an occasional gold leaf embellishment? (“It’s entertaining! No one has ever seen all these ingredients on one s’mores.”)

He demonstrates this flair for us, dutifully making us classic versions, melting Hershey’s chocolate next to the fire, and then a decadent, Elvis-leaning version with banana, peanut butter cups, and cacao nibs.

However, Hillman’s personal touch to the service has been adding savory s’mores to the Paws Up canon. (To his credit, he doesn’t blink when I tell him that, unlike most areas in my life, I’m a staunch s’mores traditionalist.)

Bound by what he considers to be a requirement that every s’more contain marshmallows and graham crackers, he makes us his favorite creation, adding Brie, chokeberry jam, and—for the meat eaters—a little pile of prosciutto. The combination is topped with a hearty shaving of truffle. I watched, surprised that it took a deep dive into s’mores for me to finally see a fully intact truffle in person. (“Actually, before doing the s’mores stuff, I hadn’t seen one either,” Hillman replies.) The result is earthy and rich, and, despite the fact that marshmallows are sugar bombs, only slightly sweet.

Ever the service industry professional, Hillman likes to end every session he leads by offering up trays of candy and supplies and inviting guests to make their own creation. (This is, perhaps, the only time that “what s’more defines you as a person?” will trigger a mild extensional crisis.) Although my love of chocolate is only short of Cathy cartoon status, I surprise myself by requesting another of his savory creations.

If America’s favorite marshmallow-based dessert can evolve, so can I.