Wearing my summery best, I took myself on a date to the Chicago Ice Cream Festival to join hundreds of people in consuming 30 different samples from 12 festival participants. The festival is only in its second year, but based on the attendance—one of the organizers mentioned that there were 800 people on the first night—the festival only shows signs of growing. Though the festival website mentioned unique culinary creations from gourmet chefs and famous scoop shops from far off commonwealths, I was not at all disappointed by the roster of almost entirely Chicago-area epicureans serving pure and simple ice cream. I imbibe in many more ice creams and desserts than those covered on this blog, but nearly all of the companies dishing out at the Festival were remarkable enough to inspire my typing fingers.
Most Imaginative Taste Sensation or The My-friends-will-never-believe-how-delicious-it-was Award: Nice Cream’s Chocolate with Sweet Basil + Vosges’ Naga (coconut curry).
Basil may seem an odd mix-in for ice cream, but Kris at Nice Cream explained it is actually a member of the mint family. While the flavor doesn’t evoke mint chocolate, caprese salad also never comes to mind. The basil somehow brought out the richness of the chocolate. As for coconut and curry, my first dessert experience with this combo was at Theo Chocolate, where the flavors are mixed into a milk chocolate; while Vosges’ description for this mentioned milk chocolate, this daring ice cream was curry yellow and without a trace of chocolate in what I could taste.
Most Intriguing or The I-need-more-of-this-in-my-life Award: MAC’s Ice Cream* + Clandestino
Both had unique offerings I would gladly stock in my freezer, but have neither wide distribution nor their own scoop shop. MAC’s list of flavors taunts me with intrigue: French Toast, Bacon, Sourdough. And Clandestino surprisingly is not exclusively an ice cream maker; they host secret dinners around town and sometimes feature ice cream as dessert. Clandestino also featured the most ambitious flavors of the festival—Sweet Cornbread, Blueberry Huitlacoche and Chocolate Chile—offering recognizable names with earthy tones, emphasizing accuracy of flavor over sugary sweetness.
Best Twists on Old Favorites: Homer's White Diamond + Nice Cream’s Peaches & Cream.
Cinnamon ice cream is always scrumptious, but usually is texturally boring. Homer’s solved that by adding white chocolate chips, which fix this problem without altering or overpowering the cinnamon flavor. As for Peaches and Cream, see below.
Best New Trend: Using a sour cream base instead of heavy whipping cream. This was done with Nice Cream’s Peaches & Cream and MAC’s Chocolate Sour Cream Sea Salt. For each, my peaked curiosity morphed into a slowly forming grin on my nodding head. With the right flavor combinations, this could be revolutionary.
Best Fruit Ice Cream: Bobtail’s Strawberry & Goat Cheese and Nice Cream’s Peaches & Cream.
Best Sorbet: Oberweis’ Mango Pomegranate.
Texture Award: Clandestino’s Chocolate Chile and St. Germain’s Peach Sorbet.
Comfort Food Award: Shawn Michelle’s Honey Cinnamon Graham Cracker.
Nationwide flavor worthy of mention: Ciao Bella’s Orange Crème Fraiche
Best Company Name: Sassy Cow, who featured a subtle Ginger Pear.
Best Logo: MAC’s Ice Cream. A flying pig wearing a chef’s hat and holding an ice cream cone. Second place goes to Clandestino’s lucha libre in a chef’s hat.
Best Service Experience: Nice Cream.
Most Reoccurring Flavor: Peach, which was featured by four different companies.
Thanks to Chris from Bobtail for telling me about this wonderful event!
*They do not appear to have a website.
Note from 2012: Inexplicably, there was only one more year of the Festival! It is missed terribly. I shall have to make a pilgrimage to the other top ice cream festivals.