Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Freezer Favs: Häagen-Dazs' Vanilla Swiss Almond

While this blog is primarily a fan of local scoop shops, it acknowledges that sometimes a person just wants to stay in for the night. That being said, this is one of my Freezer Favorites.

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Growing up in southeast Virginia, an area increasingly dominated by big box stores and chains, there weren't many local options for ice cream. On the other side of the water was Doumar's, who, in addition serving up exemplary minced barbecue and limeade, is one business that claims to have invented the first waffle cone. On our side of the water we really only had Hilton Village Ice Cream Parlor (RIP). Truth is, ice cream at Hilton Village wasn't homemade; for all their appeal they were simply serving up Hershey's brand ice cream. We had a few other places that opened for a while--a frozen custard place in Newport News, a gelato place in Hampton--but they never lasted long. Don't get me wrong, no kid turns his nose up at Rita's, Dairy Queen or even a McDonald's caramel sundae, but my ice cream coming-of-age would not really happen until college.

Arguably, my first experience with an "elegant" ice cream was Häagen-Dazs. Unlike Ben & Jerry's cram-it-all-in style, Häagen-Dazs tended to have simpler flavors, most of which were members of the ice cream canon. In years to come, they would branch out with more nuanced flavors, customer-created flavor contests, and a super-luxury line of products called the Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series, which was ambitious, brilliant and short-lived. (Thanks, economy!) Though in recent years they have scaled further and further back, one must remember the brand was quite innovative for having been the first mass-produced super premium luxury ice cream brand. Also notable in their innovation is how they offered flavors that presumably weren't regularly available in half gallon sizes. (In 1961, they started with three flavors: vanilla, chocolate and coffee.)

Tucked amongst the others is one unsuspecting flavor that sounds neither typical nor particularly unusual. It may sound simple, but I cannot think of another brand that attempts to recreate it. Vanilla Swiss Almond is an off-white ice cream that reminds the consumer of the power of vanilla. It may not be the freshest vanilla--it is vanilla extract after all--but it is a delicate flavor that fills each smooth bite. With the ice cream as its pillow, chocolate-covered roasted almonds rest within, eager to add crunchy punches of flavor and a clean after taste.

The good news is this flavor is still tasty. The bad news is that it currently uses corn syrup, which is obvious to me after eating several bites. (I am not sure whether this ingredient is a recent development or something I'm only noticing as my palate improves, but, based on the Wikipedia article about the brand, I am assuming it is the former.) While Häagen-Dazs still uses less weirdly-named ingredients than many mass-produced brands--it's still ice cream, not frozen dairy dessert--in the decades after being sold by its founder, it has lost some of the principles it was founded on: "Reuben noticed that the popular ice cream brands of the time sacrificed quality ingredients and manufacturing for a lower price tag. He decided to create an ice cream that would outshine the rest by using quality ingredients, no preservatives and a higher butterfat content – the secret to creamy, rich ice cream." All this being said, I remind you, it is still tasty.

Häagen-Dazs' Vanilla Swiss Almond, I salute you.

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