When I heard that July is National Ice Cream month, I was instantly transported back to two very powerful and happy memories at the same time, if that's even possible. The first one took me back to my childhood, hot summer days and my excitement every time I'd have an opportunity to eat my favorite ice cream -- creamy and rich burgundy cherry. Finding those whole cherries within the smooth and decadent cream is simply indescribable. Mmmm. Ice cream is one of those things that always brings a smile to my face.
The second memory was of the great years I worked for a local gourmet ice cream manufacturer, where not only did I have unlimited access to divine ice creams and real fruit sorbets, but I got the inside scoop (sorry, I had to say that) on some of the little known facts about the whats, whys and hows of creating gourmet frozen desserts.
Ice Cream itself, has a lengthy and interesting history, its beginnings dating back as far as the second century B.C. Although there are no specific dates of origin nor inventor credited with its discovery, we do know that Alexander the Great enjoyed snow and ice flavoured with honey and nectar. Biblical references mention King Solomon's fondness of iced drinks during the harvest season. During the Roman Empire, Caesar (AD 54-86) would send runners into the mountains to gather snow, which was then flavoured with fruits and juices. Over 1,000 years later, Marco Polo returned to Italy from the far east with a recipe that is close to what we now call sherbet. This recipe, according to historians, became ice cream as we know it today, sometime in the 16th century.
Ice cream has certainly captured our imaginations, with ice cream and frozen desserts now consumed by more than 90 percent of U.S. households, and enjoyed both summer and winter. This kind of popularity has led to ice cream being dubbed, an all American dessert favorite. I've found that just the mention of ice cream brings a smile to most people's faces, bringing wonderful memories too.
Other than my childhood obsession with burgundy cherry, I must confess that I've had a lifetime fascination with all the creamy and rich vanilla varieties I've been able to sample. Those made with real vanilla beans, where you can see the flecks in the product; well simply nothing beats that for me! Seems I'm not alone, as vanilla still ranks as the favorite flavour, beating chocolate by a strong 2 to 1 according to the International Dairy Federation of America. Among the rest of the top five are strawberry, cookies & cream and chocolate chip mint. Surprised? Curious if your favorite shows up in a top 15 survey by the International Ice Cream Association? I discovered that cherry comes in at number 11.
When I worked in the industry, I learned that not all ice creams are created equal. If you wonder why premium brands cost more, it's because you actually do get more for your money. Pick up a pint or ½ litre of a gourmet or premium brand and compare it to a quart or litre of a more economical brand. If they feel like they weigh the same thing, they might. The reason is that frozen desserts are sold by volume not weight. The denser consistency of an all natural premium brand stems from the fact that little or no air (overrun) is pumped into these products. The light, lower priced products may have up to 120 percent, or even more overrun. All frozen desserts do need some air or they would be hard as a rock, but premium brands stay well under 50 percent. The lower the overrun, the creamier, smoother and richer the ice cream tastes! Less air means fewer ice crystals, and fewer ice crystals means you get that melt-in-your-mouth creaminess that makes ice cream so irresistible to the palate.
Consumers with health and dietary concerns, might be happy to know that there are more and more healthy and delicious alternatives to traditional ice cream products now on the market. The company I worked for made the most heavenly all natural real fruit sorbets, which consisted of primarily real fruit, plus a small amount of sugar and stabilizer. I found it interesting to learn that the sugar was more about creating consistency than about sweetening. You can find products made with soy, rice and coconut milk as the base and many use healthy sweeteners like stevia, agave, xylitol or no sweetener at all. On my travels, I even found a product that uses cashew cream as their product base, and can't wait to get back to Arizona where this company distributes it. If you do a little bit of research, you'll find the perfect product for you. When you seek, you often find!
The range of possibilities for creating unusual flavours and combinations continues to amaze me. Our company made everything from garlic ice cream, to beet borscht and even carrot sorbet. I've read that basically anything is possible and found such unique flavours as dill pickle, jalapeno and avocado reported by those in the ice cream know. Unique flavours like this may not be the norm, but with the popularity of frozen desserts, it's becoming easier to find new flavours and combinations on the retail shelf. The company I worked with made many seasonal flavours like honey pumpkin ice cream and blood orange sorbet. We even made Ice Wine Sorbet supplied directly from the winery!
How well do you know your ice cream facts? Here's some fun trivia I uncovered in my research. It takes 50 licks to finish one single scoop of ice cream, hopefully enough licks to savor the flavour. Sunday is the day of the week that most ice cream is sold, and in fact this year, Sunday July 17th is National Ice Cream day. If you wonder who eats the most ice cream, it's kids aged 2-12 and adults over 45. Seems ice cream is as all American as apple pie, with the U.S. number one in ice cream consumption. Canada is in the top 10 too.
Here's a couple of tips I learned, that might help make your frozen dessert experience even more enjoyable. It's definitely not wise to refreeze any frozen dessert product, especially ice cream, as ice crystals form and make the product less palatable. Also be wary of eating ice cream that has been melted and refrozen -- milk and warm temperatures are well-known as a breeding ground for bacteria.
Another invaluable tip, if you have the patience to wait, is to take your frozen dessert out of the freezer and put it in the fridge for 15 minutes, before you try to scoop it. This helps temper the product throughout and makes it much easier to serve. A scoop or spoon dipped in warm water also helps a lot. Between -5 and 0 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temperature for storing ice cream, and between 6 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temperature for serving it!
So, with many of us right smack in the middle of National Ice Cream month, how can one resist? Summer is a great time to enjoy and indulge, and maybe even be daring and try something new. I would love to hear about any unusual flavours or combinations you've discovered and tasted, or even made yourself! I'd also love to hear about new products you've found that might be perfect for those with health and dietary concerns.
I"ll leave you with a fun quote from Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schulz. "Life is like an ice cream cone, you have to lick it one day at a time. Happy Ice Cream month to you all and may you enjoy and savor every lick!