Over the past couple of decades, there has been an ice cream renaissance in the United States. In a country where more than 90 percent of the population consumes this frozen confection, impassioned ice cream lovers and chefs have opened shops, equipped small production facilities, or kitted out trucks to make the stuff of memories – artisanal ice cream bursting with flavor these aficionados feasted on as kids that was a joy to eat and free of chemicals.
Much of the best ice cream is made only in small batches from the milk and cream of regional farms. A lot is made with organic seasonal fruit and organic dairy. Many flavors are brand-new, such as Steve’s innovative Carrot Habanero Pepper and Molly Moon’s Kombucha. Others, like Woodside Farm Creamery's Butter Brickle with toffee, are pure nostalgia. Most producers make their own custard-style base with eggs, which helps avoid large ice crystals and keeps the texture smooth and creamy, the taste rich and delicious. The majority also tend to charge more than big commercial ice cream makers – in part, the cost of ditching thickeners, gums, and stabilizers for a more natural product.
These producers may vary, but they all follow the basic precepts of good ice cream: You have to use “the best ingredients and the best process, and then you perform it with a lot of care. So you pay attention to details,” says Robert Roberts, head of Penn State’s Food Science Department and the man who runs the school’s popular ice cream "short course," which instructs professionals in the nuances of commercial ice cream making.
We found notable producers committed to high-quality, small-batch ice cream all over the United States. But Brooklyn, New York, emerged as a kind of modern ice cream mecca, with a clutch of new, imaginative, and skilled ice cream producers. Everywhere, demand for premium ice cream is growing – and with it, new shops that are worth a visit. Here is a sampling of what we found.
Ben & Jerry's (Waterbury, Vermont)
Established in 1978, this once-small Vermont producer of homemade ice cream (with a cultish following) hit the big time when Unilever bought it in 2000. But it retains the kind of rock-culture flavors that made it famous. And it remains phenomenally popular: Of all the big-name ice cream outfits in the U.S., Ben & Jerry's is the social media favorite, raking in by far the most "likes," followers, and video views on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In 2013, the flavor Half Baked (chocolate and vanilla ice creams with chocolate chip cookie dough and fudge brownies), unseated iconic Cherry Garcia (cherry ice cream with cherries and fudge flakes) as the No. 1 Ben & Jerry's bestseller in the U.S. The company may have gone industrial with a daily ice cream production of 35,000 gallons processed in 1,000-gallon blenders and stored in 5,000-gallon mix tanks, but it still reflects small-batch values by refusing genetically modified ingredients and dairy from cows fed artificial growth hormone. [benjerry.com]