Saturday, March 24, 2012

Media Fear Tactics Against Ice Cream --or-- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the FroYo

The act of eating store-bought fruit ice cream is usually disappointing. One bite and the realization hits that it just isn't as fruity as hoped. The tartness and sweetness are diluted when in competition with the fruit of the cow. But still the devoted continue to line up for each newly introduced tree-born concoction to grace the grocery-store freezer.

Cue conspiratorial laughter.

A few aisles over, in the open refrigerated section, the yogurt rests easy knowing that there is a double standard working in its favor. While the level of fruitiness is disappointing in ice cream, there is a tradition of appreciating the subtle contributions fruit makes to yogurt. In truth, the actual fruit content ratios of the two products are similar, so why the love for fruit yogurt and the disappointment with fruit ice cream? Lemme break it down for ya. Quite simply, there is always a low expectation when eating yogurt, but we settle for because we've been taught to not eat ice cream all the time. Having interviewed every lactose-friendly person on earth, I can report that no one actually prefers frozen yogurt; it only gets eaten because of the smear campaign against ice cream. (Yes, sometimes yogurt is the more healthy option, but not always! I ask you, what about the health of one's soul?)

The resurgence of froyo has made itself nauseatingly clear with baby talk chain names and their cutesy-wootsy color palettes. (One exception: Snog, an international chain started in Britain. Visit their wittily chosen URL and treat yourself to their witty taglines.) Ben & Jerry's saw this as their golden opportunity.

Ben & Jerry's has released a new line of products called Greek Frozen Yogurt. Intrigued, I put my FroYo differences aside and picked up a pint of both Raspberry Fudge Chunk and Blueberry Vanilla Graham. Both offered the slightly sour flavor one expects with frozen yogurt, but the texture was creamy enough that it reminded me of a light cheesecake ice cream. The vanilla in the blueberry flavor gives a fullness of flavor that reminds you why vanilla is popular. The raspberry flavor had gobs and gobs of fudge chunks, a favorite mix-in of mine that Ben & Jerry's is usually uncharacteristically stingy with.

Though they are simply feeding on our fear--note that there is no mention on the packaging of any health advantages to the new product--Ben & Jerry's have actually created a tasty product befitting of their brand. Each flavor takes something classic, imagines another flavor to give it an edge and then throws in loads of chunks. Other flavors currently available in the new product line are Strawberry Shortcake and one more featuring the fruit that shall not be named.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Continuing Fight to Save Chicago Ice Cream

This past summer, there was pandemonium in the Chicago ice cream community. The state of Illinois began enforcing laws that require small mom-and-pop ice cream makers to purchase expensive and unnecessary equipment. The issue in question is stove-top pasteurization, a cost-effective method widely accepted in the industry as being safe. Health and safety are not endangered by the use of this technique, but the state is halting production of the companies that use it, starting with Nice Cream. Bureaucratic red tape shutting down small businesses is the last thing we need in this economy. Unfortunately, the struggle continues.

This week I received a note (and button!) from Nice Cream founder, Kris Swanberg:

Thank you so much for donating to the Nice Cream Kickstarter project last year. When we found that we were going to have to stop production because of state licensing we were totally and completely devastated. Because of you and others like you we are making our way toward getting this changed and being back in business.

You can help! Go to the Nice Cream website for instructions for writing the Governor of Illinois and an Illinois State Representative.

UPDATE (6/14/13): Back in October, I emailed Kris asking if the business had folded since the website appeared to be down, not to mention their inactivity on Facebook and Twitter. For these reasons, the total lack of any coverage of Nice Cream dated after 2011 and the lack of a response to my email, I think one can assume that Nice Cream is gone forever. What a sad and terrible turn.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You're Welcome, President Obama

'Sup Barack-n-Roll,

During your second birthday in the White House, I joined many Americans in sending you birthday wishes. Mine included the suggestion to try Thomas Sweet in Georgetown. I know how busy it must be having a full-time job and raising a family, so I didn't expect my note to be given full attention. Having recently revisited the shop, I was shocked to see pictures of you on their wall shaking hands and posing with the staff. You DID read my note!

At first, I was a tad bothered that I wasn't sent a thank you card for sharing such valuable information, but then I remembered I never sent you a thank you note for taking on the Sisyphean task of working with a Congress so consumed by pleasing their funders that they refuse to do their job. Rather than ignorantly blaming you for having both hands tied behind your back, I would like to be the change I want to see in the world. Here is my offer to serve on your cabinet in a new position I call Secretary of Dessert Consumption. Here is my first report:

Mr. President, some time has passed since my first transmission. By now I have visited each of the most frequently mentioned top ice cream shops in Washington, D.C. I am pleased to report that I did not pull a Rumsfeld, sir. Make no misunderestimations, Thomas Sweet is indeed the best in DC.

My personal favorite is Chocolate Chip Cookie. Unlike another American-invented ice cream flavor which contains cookie dough as a mix-in, this flavor actually tastes like cookie dough, complete with a mouthful of mini-chocolate chips in each bite. But there are many flavors worth exploring. I also highly recommend the Bittersweet Chocolate, which is gelato-like in its explosive dark chocolate flavor, and Chocolate Marshmallow Oreo, which features marshmallows with the same texture as those in the process of melting in a warm cup of hot chocolate.

As the first Secretary of Dessert Consumption, I will continue dutifully serving my country by providing reliable information on the best places for ice cream and more. All of this data will be compiled in this blog, thereby creating total transparency for the public eye and bettering our great country.


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Update for 2015: While Thomas Sweet is more of a classic ice cream shop in D.C., in recent years another great option is Ice Cream Jubilee in Navy Yard, which offers some tres chic flavors.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The second openly cream?

Breaking news! While I was busy writing my multi-pan review of Ben & Jerry's Class of 2012, they did something worthy of absolute praise! After creating the first openly GLBT ice cream, Hubby Hubby back in 2009, Ben & Jerry's is doing it again with the UK launch of Apple-y Ever After.

Read this article: "Ben & Jerry's, the Vermont proprietor of ice-cream activism, has produced a limited-edition batch of apple pie-flavored pints—called "Apple-y Ever After"—to show its support for same-sex marriage in the U.K., where a gay rights organization has drafted a bill to legalize weddings between same-sex couples...'Sticking up for civil rights by a progressive company like Ben & Jerry's goes together like big chunks and swirls in ice cream,' Sean Greenwood, a spokesman for Ben & Jerry's U.S. operation, wrote."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ben & Jerry's Class of 2012

Not sure what's gotten into Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's but they had some serious trouble giving their flavors names this year. The problem isn't that the flavors are lame; the problem is that most of the names have very little to do with what the ice cream actually tastes like. But when dealing with artificial flavors and relying more heavily on corn syrup, really it's all a guessing game. Every flavor could be called Je Ne Sais Quoi.

Chocolate Therapy - I know this flavor has been at Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops, but I feel like it was also in the grocery store years ago. Regardless, it's back and being labeled as "New." Unfortunately, it has more created a need for therapy than it has been a solution. Imagine buying something labeled juice (let's say Tropicana Trop50) and upon drinking it realizing it is actually flavored water (like Tropicana Trop50). The disappoint is the same with this flavor: there is no denying the color of the ice cream is blackish-brown, but this does not mean the flavor is that of chocolate. To be fair, chocolate ice cream does not taste like chocolate; it tastes like chocolate ice cream. But this ice cream tastes like a half cup of Oreos (which also don't actually taste like chocolate) ground into paste, mixed with cream and a touch of cocoa powder. It's not half bad, but it ain't half good either.

Rocky Road-ish - Similar to Ben & Jerry's Magic Brownies Remix in concept, this flavor takes an existing flavor and turns it on its head. But unlike Magic Brownies, this remix does not improve upon the original. At first bite, the toasted marshmallow ice cream actually tastes toasted and with each bite that flavor becomes more and more artificial until it disappears. After about five bites, the ice cream tasted like cake batter ice cream. The artificial flavor is so heavy, my mouth had that corn syrup after taste. The flavor also touted including a marshmallow swirl, something Ben & Jerry's mastered in Phish Food but failed at here. Hey, but at least there's chocolate covered almonds; sadly they are so tiny and over salted that they taste like peanuts. The carton mentioned nothing about the tiny bits of red goo that I encountered every four bites. Eww.

Chocolate Nougat Crunch - As a singer-songwriter, one of the finest compliments I've received for my music was, "I love it. It is both unique and familiar. I can't think of anything else that is quite like it." The same could be said for this new ice cream flavor. I know I've knocked the mystery of the past two flavors, but I'll admit the mystery of this flavor had me hooked like a red herring. After some thought, the flavor mystery was solved: this tastes like the physical manifestation of what ice cream shops smell like! Cake cones and sweet cream with a hint of roasted coffee and melted chocolate in the air. The chocolate covered wafers--while not "crunchy" as the flavor name would suggest--are a delightful new mix-in and the nougat gives that hint of Charleston Chew nostalgia. My favorite of the new flavors.

In a future post, I will discuss Ben & Jerry's Frozen Greek Yogurt.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Häagen-Dazs Class of 2012

In recent years, Häagen-Dazs has opted to offer an annual selection of "Limited Edition" flavors, treating the introduction of new flavors as a market test. This year they offer four new flavors: the three below and Vanilla Bean Espresso, which interests me about as much as Knucklehair ice cream.

Spiced Caramel Biscuit - When I saw the word "speculoos" on a pint of ice cream, I got so excited I began weeping loudly and tossing dollar bills at the freezer. This behavior was also due to some confusion I felt: I could plainly see the Belgian s-word written in 8-point font on the side of the container, but the flavor was called "caramel biscuit" when speculoos is a cinnamon cookie. After being escorted out of the grocery store, I gave it a try: a buttery ice cream (allegedly caramel-flavored) with enough cookies per bite to have some that were softened, some that were crunchy and some that were crystally in the way only speculoos can be. Despite a misleading name, a truly enjoyable flavor worthy of trying.

Salted Caramel Truffle - The bougie trend of adding salt to caramels is one I've been known to indulge in once or twice, but I swear it was morbid curiosity and not a need for dessert performance enhancements. The word caramel is enough to make me try most anything, regardless of the spice obstacles I must endure. But now the trend has extended beyond the neighborhood scoop shops and into the grocery aisle. This new flavor has an acceptable balance, giving a clear salty & sweet flavor on first taste of the sweet-cream ice cream and caramel swirl, but an overall sweet aftertaste. The major letdown are the "truffles," which taste like the post-holiday discount candy that's still sitting around a week later. (A look at the ingredients list shows that cocoa is the ninth ingredient in the "truffles.")

Coconut Macaroon - Perfect for the Häagen-Dazs brand, this stand-out flavor is simple, delicate, creamy and a new twist in an old favorite. Like a macaroon, the ice cream is both a little oily and a little buttery. The macaroon mix-in is both brittle and chewy. There is both the taste of shredded coconut (the subtle ice cream) and toasted coconut (the mix-in). Easily my favorite of the new flavors.