I’ve been a little obsessive over ice cream lately. It is, after all, National Ice Cream Month. And I don’t mean frozen yogurt or low fat knockoffs. No. Full-flavor butterfat-rich frozen diary with a cone please, the real cream experience. It may be because for a number of reasons I’ve been either fasting for medical reasons or eating super lean and freshly for mind-body efforts that I crave just one treat that is full on flavor. But quite frankly for me, there’s just something about a cone in summertime that takes me back to family outings to Crescent Ridge Dairy.
As you see in the photo I’ve been exploring all kinds of flavors (clockwise, starting from the top left): my Homemade Swanton’s Strawberry Mint Chip; Swenson’s Chocolate Chip & Mint Chip; Double Rainbow It’s A Goody and Swenson’s Mocha Fudge. There’s many others but one must maintain some semblance of control. I’ve also re-discovered Dr. Bob’s Scharffen Berger Works. At $7.00 a pint this is not for the casual ice cream indulgence. Warning, this chocolate ice cream is nirvana: containing bittersweet and semisweet chocolate bits and ground cocoa beans in a dark chocolate base, it is like no other. The secret is in the amount of butterfat at least 16%.
So why the fuss over the butterfat? Well, federal law, it seems, sets the standard. Ice cream must have at least 10 percent milk fat. This seems to me to be a small amount, that results in a very airy ice cream. In the churning process the amount of air affects the density and quality of the ice cream. The more air there is the poorer the quality. Super-premium ice creams typically has at least 12 percent and sometimes as much as 16 percent butterfat. You get what you pay for, eh?
According to the International Ice Cream Association, about 8% of the milk produced in the U.S. in 2005 was used to make frozen dairy products. The top flavors are vanilla (by a very large share), chocolate (a distant and paltry showing), Neapolitan, strawberry and cookies ‘n’ cream. The numbers work out to be about 52% of us walking the straight and narrow. The rest of us, if we look to Ben & Jerry, have freezers full of Cherry Garcia, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream, Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream and Chunky Monkey Ice Cream. The complete list can be found here.
There are all kinds of tales as long as the summer about where it all started. It all started back in the fifth century BC, ancient Greeks sold snow cones mixed with honey and fruit in the markets of Athens. Later Roman Emperor Nero is said to have eaten fruit chilled with snow brought by slaves down from the mountains. However, elsewhere, Mongolian horseman are said t o have taken cream in containers that were formed from animal innards as provisions across the Gobi desert in winter. Galloping along the cream was shaken and frozen all at the same time. As the empire spread through China, Marco Polo picked up on the idea and brought it to Italy in the late 13th century. In turn Catherine de Medici who at 14 years young was married off in 1533 to the future French King Henri II she brought with her an entourage of Italian chefs and the ice cream fixings. All good stories but the true history probably has more to do with the invention of the ice cream maker in the mid-19th century and the rise of refrigeration.
Today there are essentially two methods of making ice cream: Philadelphia-style, made from with a base that is a blend of milk and cream, flavorings and sugar or the custard-style often referred to as French made from a pre-cooked custard base that includes egg yolks, sugar, milk and less cream; they are also whipped before they are frozen.
Around the world ice cream is popular. In Japan these days they have a rather unique flavor set, sweet potato and a saltwater fish flavor that is combined with large amounts of brandy. One of the more popular flavors rice ice cream. This is made with Japan’s favorite rice, koshihikari, which is also used to create some of the country’s finest sake. In Italy, granita, the savvy Sicilian cousin to gelato, is a semi-frozen sugar-water flavored grainy ice treat. In a recent NPR story I learned that a summertime breakfast in Sicily is often coffee granita served with brioche. And if you live in or around San Francisco you can taste ice cream India-style at Bombay Ice Creamery. this eight-year-old looks-like-nothing-much location showcases flavors that are homemade and reflect that tastes of the Indian subcontinent including saffron-pistachio, cardamom and mango, and chicku.
And in case you are the extra-curious sort the average person eats about 22 quarts of ice cream a year about 3-ish small cones a week! And it takes, on average about 50 licks to finish a scoop of ice cream. So really I think I may need to pick up the pace in the efforts of keeping with the stats!