By Robin Cherry
A new crop of flavor creators are revolutionizing one of our favorite warm-weather indulgences. Like the Chevrolet Malibu, with aerodynamic ingenuity that lets it slice through the summer air, expert craftsmanship and high-style design, these innovative, artisanal ice creams offer up the finest ingredients to make your ride a luxurious treat. It’s a nice day for a drive, don’t you think? So pamper yourself. Savor the delicious, sophisticated fun. (And don’t forget the napkins.)
At Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream in San Francisco, Jake Godby defies convention by featuring flavors that sound weird but taste wonderful. His top seller is Secret Breakfast, a vanilla ice cream spiked with bourbon and toasted corn flakes. Boccalone Prosciutto came about when meat-loving local chef Chris Cosentino, owner of Boccalone Salumeria, dropped off a bag of prosciutto bones the way most neighbors drop off cookies. Godby roasted the bones, simmered them in milk, added fennel seeds and black pepper and then tasted it to make sure it wasn’t “too piggy.” What was meant to be a one-off has turned out to be so popular that it’s now part of the permanent rotation. Godby’s exotic Peanut Butter Curry is crafted from house-made peanut butter and Vadouvan, a gourmet blend of caramelized onions, garlic and shallots and traditional Indian curry spices. Other unexpected concoctions include Strawberry-Jalapeño, a Fois Gras-Ginger Snap Ice Cream Sandwich and banana ice cream with bacon peanut brittle christened Elvis (the Fat Years).
Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seattle creates ingenious ice creams that adhere to its abiding “crop to cone” philosophy. Former political fundraiser Molly Moon Neitzel’s most notable collaboration is the seasonally available Beecher’s Flagship ice cream, made with rich cheddar cheese from Beecher’s Pike Place cheese shop. Other not-to-be-missed flavors include “Theo Chocolate,” chocolate-fudge ice cream drizzled with melted fair-trade chocolate bars from Theo, Balsamic Strawberry made with locally grown fruit and a rich balsamic reduction, and Scout Mint, real Girl Scout cookie Thin Mints in mint ice cream flavored with Washington-grown peppermint. Her newest flavor: Maple Bacon, “a sweet and swiney” combo.
Sweet Action in Denver satisfies both traditional ice cream lovers and the lactose-intolerant. Its vegan versions of Brownie and Coffee and Doughnuts earned it kudos as “Denver’s Best Ice Cream for the Milk Averse.” Samantha Kopicko and Chia Basinger’s regular ice cream flavors include Whiskey Brickle made with local Stranahan’s Straight Rocky Mountain Whiskey; Mexican Chocolate Stout and fan-favorite Salted Butterscotch. The duo also makes exotic flavors like Baklava, Five Spice and Dulce de Leche, as well as down-home candy flavors like Andes Mints and Cherry Mash. For something completely different: Mascarpone Chili Blackberry, a unique blend of cheese, spice and fruit that shouldn’t work, but does.
Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon calls itself a “farm-to-cone” ice cream shop. The ice cream is made with a rich 17% butterfat (nearly the highest possible) and a low sweetness level so the flavors really pop. Aiming high, one of Salt and Straw’s ice cream makers, Rudy Speerscheider, recently created The Universe, a nutty dark chocolate base flavored with black sesame, blackberries and black cocoa with swirls of Milky Way. Down on earth, the Arbequina Olive Oil ice cream pairs peppery local olive oil with rich vanilla custard. Seasonal specialties include Dandelion Sorbet with Edible Spring Flowers, Sweet Heat Apricot Wheat Ale with candied Scotch Bonnet Peppers and Burnside Brewing Ale. For more conventional tastes, there’s the Cinnamon Snickerdoodle.
Glacé in Kansas City is an artisanal ice cream shop founded by cutting-edge chocolatier Christopher Elbow. His signature flavor is tangy goat cheese and sweet wildflower honey. Other brilliant blends include his salty/sweet Salted Pretzel and Rocky Road, chocolate ice cream mixed with almonds and handmade marshmallows. Elbow also features two flavors incorporating his own chocolate: Dark Chocolate and Spiced Chocolate (dark chocolate infused with a chile spice blend). The ice cream freezer is called “Doorway to Heaven” and the shop’s slogan is “When Joy Freezes Over.” I can’t think of a better advertisement for ice cream than that.
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Robin Cherry is a Hudson Valley-based travel, food and pop culture writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Afar, Islands and many other publications. She blogs at Garlic Escapes and is writing a book on the history of garlic that will be published in 2014. Follow her on Twitter @garlicescapes.