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.
Bi-Rite Creamery (San Francisco)
A family-owned organic creamery in Marin County just north of San Francisco has supplied Bi-Rite Creamery since it opened in 2006 with organic dairy and eggs. Five yolks go into the rich Bi-Rite base and then other local, handmade, and organic ingredients are used to make luscious flavors like Honey Lavender with Sonoma Honey, Malted Vanilla with Peanut Brittle and Milk Chocolate Pieces, and Balsamic Strawberry. In the adjacent Bi-Rite Bakeshop, the two owners, who started as bakers, make whatever tidbits goes into their ice cream, whether it's brownies, marshmallows, or snickerdoodles for cinnamon-flavored Ricanelas ice cream. [biritecreamery.com]