Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My college years were wasted.

The first time I ever heard of the ice cream at Penn State it was my 21st birthday, an alcohol-free all-you-can-eat-dessert bash. My friends Boren and Dianne handed me a wrapped present, clearly a video tape. Suspecting age-related funny business, I asked: "Porn?" They looked at each other and laughed a little. "Maybe for you." This fuzzy answer was brought into focus when I unwrapped to gift to find a video detailing some of the best frozen dessert destinations in the U.S.A. I watched the video with much longing. One of the places mentioned was Penn State's Berkey Creamery.

Why I didn't immediately switch schools escapes me now.

The second time I heard of this ice cream, I was in my senior year of college. Three friends and I were planning out a performance (for which we created a fictional playwright and script) where sections of the "play" were acted out before things start to go wrong and implode, culminating in the performers storming off the stage with the "play" unfinished and the audience unaware that this was the planned ending. (I had very interesting college years.) One of the collaborators was my friend Dave Watkins, an incredible musician currently pioneering the genre of Appalachian Indie Rock. Dave suggested that our fictional playwright (a playground equipment manufacturer) should be from Central Pennsylvania, where Dave's family owned some property. That's when he told me told me his first-hand experience with Penn State's ice cream, which once again had me pondering a transfer to pursue a degree in Food Science.

So when I suggested my dad and I take a 100-mile detour to Penn State's Berkey Creamery on a recent volunteering trip to Pennsylvania, it was no ho-hum suggestion; it was a life goal that had been long set. Before I tell you about the ice cream--If I'm blogging about it, you can guess it was incredible. I keep my blog positive!--I must tell you some of the facts about this mecca of things dairy:

  • Average time from cow to cup is three days. It doesn't get much fresher than that!
  • They produce 1 million pounds of ice cream annually!
  • Their Ice Cream Short Course offered through Penn State's Department of Food Science has been around for over a century and is taken by big corporate ice cream manufacturers and owners of mom-and-pop operations. (I called and asked. It costs about $2,000, but you were wondering what to get me for the holidays.)

As for the product, there is only one flaw: when purchasing their über-creamy ice cream, they only allow one flavor per bowl. Sheepishly, my dad and I kept asking for more samples so we could make our choices count. I can honestly say, there has never been another time when tasting the samples resulted in complete and total indecision in my family. We settled on Keeny Beany (chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips and flecks of vanilla bean) and Alumni Swirl (vanilla ice cream with Swiss mocha chips and a blueberry swirl). But there were so many flavors that needed to be tried: Happy Happy Joy Joy (coconut ice cream with butter roasted almonds and chocolate chips), Peachy Paterno (peach ice cream with peach slices), Death by Chocolate... We did not have the foresight Dave had on his recent visit to bring dry ice to pack a couple half gallons for the ride home.

What's that? What do I know about ice cream since me I only post positive reviews? Well, jerk-asaurus, I'll have you know that Penn State's ice cream is the third scoop shop I've reviewed so far that is featured in Forbes Traveler list of America's Best Ice Cream. (Also featured are Toscanini's in Boston/Cambridge and Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory , not to mention two of the most recommended places by my friends, Graeter's
in Cincinnati and Ted Drewes in St. Louis.)

Note from 2012: I have now been to Berkey Creamery a few times. It continues to be worth the detours necessary to get there.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Massachusetts Institute of Toscanini's

Boston is great for many of the same reasons that make Chicago my favorite American city: lots of history, water, a city park along the waterfront, exemplary public transportation, great church, food that brings other cities to shame, obnoxiously loyal baseball fans, a strong Irish and Italian presence. But until Chicago proves me wrong, the Boston-area has got it beat in the all-important ice cream category.

When I was in Boston in June, I did a lot of walking: South Station to Bunker Hill to MIT to the Christian Science Center and through the Boston Common back to South Station. Being that it's passé for a complete unknown to impress MIT professors with his genius--That is so 1998!--I had other reasons for being across the Charles River in Cambridge.
Toscanini's is not your average ice cream shop. MIT students slaving away over equations (even though it was graduation weekend) while late-20-somethings with dreads and septum piercings dished up life-changing experiences to paying customers. The New York Times declared Toscanini's "The best ice cream in the world." While a statement like this is too bold for me to make on first tasting, I can say on gut impulse that one of their flavors has made the top 4, if not higher. Brown Butter had a truffle-like texture, with richness of mascarpone and, as for the flavor, I was glad I was sitting down.

Even though I've tasted what must be the best ice cream in the Boston-area, I will not forget to patronage my tried-and-true, J.P. Lick's. Make sure you try their Oreo Cake Batter and their Strawberry-Rhubarb when it's available. Also make sure to sample (with little to no intention of purchasing) their ever-rotating wacky flavors like Cucumber and Disco Inferno AKA Tabasco.

Note from 2015: Toscanini's remains the best ice cream I have ever had, so much so it deserved a refined post, reflecting on my years of visiting Toscanini's.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sandwich Ice Cream

In addition to doing the roasting over at Blanchard's Coffee, Tom Thorogood also makes their ice cream. The coffee ice cream they previously sold was purchased from someone outside, but Tom suggested that he start making the ice cream using the very same coffee he roasts! Talk about ingenuity! Then, when everyone loved the ice cream he made, Tom was propositioned by one of his fans. The fan wondered, could he pay Tom to make ice cream for him once a week? As a result, Tom now makes ice cream 3 or 4 times a week, experimenting with new flavor ideas and fine tuning his methods. So when I heard that he had a blog where he would sometimes post his ice cream recipes, I knew I was in for a treat.

The flavor that most sparked my interest on Tom's blog was Fluffernutter, since Fluffernutters--peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches--were first introduced to me by our mutual friend Meggin.
I had only eaten Fluffernutter ice cream once at Rita Marie's after swimming in Lake Pontoosuc in Pittsfield, MA.

I made it Thursday for a dinner party I hosted, delighted by little notes in the recipe. (Keep mixing; "your arm should be tired." After mixing the peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, "Eat some, because why the hell WOULDN'T you?") While at Rita Marie's the peanut buitter and marshmallow were blended into the mixture, Tom chose to instead have balled up peanut butter/marshmallow balls sprinkled throughout. The resulting chewiness created in Tom's version reminded me of a Butterfinger candy bar. Since I will be saving this recipe, I'll be sure to try with chocolate ice cream at a future date.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Duck + Doughnuts = Waddling Pun

Made-to-order doughnuts! Incredible, ain't it?! Now that I've got you hooked, read on.

On a recent family vacation down to Nags Head (or the Outer Banks, as it has been called since the OBX marketing campaign), my brother initiated me in the latest tradition. Since 2006, when the Virginians in my family make the annual trip south to the beaches of North Carolina, they must go to Duck Donuts. You'll never guess the incredible product they offer! ...I guess you could guess...since I mentioned it as the hook earlier. Oh, bother...

Hot, fresh, made-to-order doughnuts! Eight ways to have your doughnut (Bare, Powdered Sugar, Cinnamon Sugar, Glaze, Maple Glaze, Chocolate Glaze, Vanilla Glaze and Strawberry Glaze) and four toppings to choose from (Peanuts, Shredded Coconut, Chocolate Sprinkles or Rainbow Sprinkles, in addition to the option of ordering with no topping). Only one doughnut outfit and accessory allowed, which means, assuming toppings will only stick to the glaze options, there are 28 varieties of doughnuts one could. (My dad and I checked one another's math, which was no big task since I tutored this past fall.)

I'd never had a hot, fresh cake doughnut before. The first two are surprisingly easily inhaled, like hot, fresh rise doughnuts. But just try and eat a third without skipping a meal. I dare ya. My personal favorite was their subtle Strawberry Glaze with Shredded Coconut and, my old stand-by, Chocolate with Chopped Peanuts. Have fun choosing your own combination. And for anyone wondering, all of the glazes and toppings taste good when scraped off the box with your finger.

There are many other fine food establishments in Nags Head. My family's absolute favorite seafood of all time is the dolphin boat at John's Drive-In on the Beach Road near mile 4.5. Superb milkshakes that come in more flavors than you and the missus got fingers and toes. Made with real fruit!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Flavors: Häagen-Dazs Class of 2009

Häagen-Dazs has a variety of new products this summer. Their Reserve Series has a new addition, Carmelized Hazelnut Gianduja, which was less sweet than I hoped for. (By definition, gianduja is more chocolate than hazelnut, but the chocolate was barely present, much less deserving of helping name the flavor.) Limited Edition Peanut Butter Brittle is another new (and less than accurately named) flavor. It is dominated by a peanut butter swirl and has surprisingly few brittle pieces.

But never fear, dedicated ice cream fans! Häagen-Dazs, my favorite among mass-produced ice cream brands, has come out with a new line of products that is both delicious and inspiring:
Häagen-Dazs Five, ice cream made with only five ingredients! As an ice cream chef, this seems quite a feat because there are no stabilizers. What preserves the ice cream's fresh texture? Of those I've tried, each has the texture that is unique to mass-produced ice cream. It isn't quite the homemade feel, but it's close. The ice cream I make rarely has substantial leftovers--if you can imagine--but what leftovers there are tend to crystallize, freeze densely or have a slightly lumpy quality the next day. (Don't ask what the texture is like after two days; you'll have to ask an inferior ice cream chef!) But waxing philosophical on the chemical properties of dessert was never the mission of this blog...

Thus far, there are seven varieties of this new product line. The more original flavors in this line are also the most interesting: Brown Sugar and Passion Fruit. (It ain't exactly rocket science making vanilla or chocolate using only five ingredients, plus Häagen-Dazs already had those flavors down.) Brown Sugar, while simpler, eclipses Häagen-Dazs' other brown sugar themed ice cream, Sticky Toffee Pudding, winner of 2006's flavor search competition flavor search competition. Due to the product's minimalist nature, this new flavor has a uniform texture (mealy brown sugar) where I normally prefer something more dynamic, but it is so easy to eat! It is light, but not airy! Seriously, shovel it into my mouth! I love it! What starts as a casual taste quickly turns into a new item on the grocery list. As for Passion Fruit, the fruit is not overpowered, nor diluted by the creaminess of the ice cream. This fruit ice cream packs a punch!

There is one more new flavor worthy of mention: Limited Edition Dark Chocolate. I haven't tried this flavor because no grocery store I've been in for well over a month seems to carry it. If you see it, let me know (a) how it was and (b) where you found it. Or just mail it to:

Marisa's Ice Cream
c/o Brad's mouth
1 Ever-changing St
Transient Town, USA

Note from 2012: I did eventually find the Dark Chocolate, which I didn't find noteworthy enough to post about. It wasn't nearly as dark as the Häagen-Dazs flavor Belgian Chocolate.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


There is life after beignets in New Orleans. So if you want to get off the beaten tourist path and taste the best homemade ice cream the city has to offer, strike up the brass band and parade on over to the Garden District's Creole Creamery.

Their buttery, baseball size scoops of ice cream come in many tasty, creative flavors. Can't decide? No fear. You can order the ingenious sampler dish, 4 to 6 smaller scoops for the consumer who would like to  taste more of their delicious options:

  • Red Velvet Cake - Buttery cream cheese ice cream with almost equal parts cake. My favorite!

  • Cayenne Lime Butter - A subtle mixture of these unlikely flavors that must at least be sampled, if not purchased.

  • Chocolate Pecan Pie - Fudgy, buttery (Did I mention all of their flavors are buttery?) chocolate ice cream and pecans, which always taste better when consumed in the south.

  • A Clockwork Orange - The flavor that inspired both a famous book and film. Chocolate and orange are frequently mixed, but this flavor takes it up a notch by adding the textural addition of chocolate orange pieces.

  • Saffron Pistachio: Another popular flavor, which my friend Alexis described as tasting like soap. I'm sorry to say I agreed, but happy to have tried such an original creation.