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32 Flavors and Then Some

May 24, 2012
Saturday is the Tour de Hard Ice Cream. You may be coming, or you may have better things to do on a holiday weekend. Or perhaps you just can’t fathom spending several hours driving around the Capital Region eating ice cream for lunch and quite possibly dinner.

Most likely if you aren’t attending, you just plan to sit back, relax and wait for the results to come in next week. And that’s totally fair. It’s exactly why we do these ridiculous outings. If you are only going to have a handful of ice cream experiencesover the summer, will it be worth your while to drive out of your way to get something that people say is fantastic.

Because there are a lot of foods people clamor over that aren’t really special.

But today we’re going to talk more about ice cream. Because these tours are fun, but they are also serious business. Each participant will be choosing a flavor at the beginning of the day, and trying as much as possible to faithfully stick to that flavor across all five venues. I’m hoping that we get results across a broad array of flavors, because each one reveals different truths about the ice cream maker.

Vanilla
For many this is the key flavor for evaluating an ice cream maker’s skill. There is no place to hide. Artificial vanilla cries out. Real vanilla is rewarded. But even vanilla extract can leave the heat of alcohol on the tongue. The presence of flecks can be a real red herring. Sometimes they are the scraped seeds from the pod. Other times they are the ground up and tasteless hulls of the pod.

Chocolate
How deep is your love? Chocolate can range anywhere from a lightly flavored glass of chocolate milk, to a deep, dark, chewy chocolate. We’ll see on the morning of the event if there will be room for a “Chocolate Deluxe” category. Each place my have a slightly different take on this, but it would be chocolate layered on top of chocolate, that’s layered on top of chocolate. You know, flavors like Death by Chocolate, or Chocolate Explosion, or Chocolate Lover’s Delight.

Strawberry
Fruit flavors are challenging, and strawberry is one of the quintessential ice cream flavors. I’d be surprised if there was anyplace that would open their window without a tub of strawberry in the freezer. The color of strawberry ice cream can be horrifically pink. The berries can range from white and under ripe, to musy and over ripe. There can be chunks of fruit, specks of fruit, or no fruit at all. The strawberries can taste fresh, or they can taste jammy. And perhaps worst of all, they can render the ice cream icy.

Coffee
The best coffee ice creams balance the bitter complexity of the brew with a sweet and creamy ice cream base. But some coffee ice creams are barely notable as coffee. They could just as easily be caramel toffee. They may have some roasty, toasty notes in them, but are more sweet than anything else. Others may be labeled as espresso or take on the name of a classic coffee blend like mocha java. Some might have ground up bits of coffee bean inside for added punch. But coffee can sometimes go too far, and just taste wrong.

Chocolate Chip/Chunk
Why would anyone ever order a topping when some flavors come with the toppings already inside them? The best examples realize that chocolate chips aren’t just an afterthought. The size, shape, thickness and quantity of the chips play a really important role to the mouthfeel and overall experience of the flavor.

Did I say thirty-two flavors? Well, there are a heck of a lot more, but these five classics are destined to be at any ice cream stand in the country. The yardsticks for which we measure other ice creams should be forged from these perpetual favorites.

But there are certainly more.

Mint Chocolate Chip – It should be white and not green, dammit.
Rocky Road – Where did this go? Kids choke on marshmallows and nuts are a no-no too.
Butter Pecan – Same deal with the nuts, but they get so nice and crispy when frozen.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough – For me Ben & Jerry’s sets the gold standard here.
Cookies & Cream – Ice cream with cookies is even better than milk and cookies.
Pistachio – My understanding is that the prices for these nuts has gone nuts.
Tin Roof – Nobody even knows what this is anymore.
Moose Tracks – Naming food for animal poop is very French.
Chocolate Peanut Butter – The dessert that eats like a meal. Damn, that’s heavy.

You know, I could keep on going. But there’s not too much point in it, given that most likely at our five places the most they will have in common are the classics. I really love them all, and am having a hard time choosing which one I want to sample over the course of the tour.

It’s possible I will let the crowd choose my selection, and adjust my choice to make sure we have adequate coverage over all flavors. Or maybe I’ll just throw caution to the wind and go with coffee (provided it’s available across the board this Saturday).

I have a funny feeling I could use the extra burst of energy. That is, unless it makes my heart explode. But I’m fairly confident I can make it through.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2012 9:52 am

    Wish we could make it. :( I will be doing lots of heavy lifting moving Mom into her new house. (Last week we painted, this week we move.) however, I will be following along on twitter and perhaps we’ll be able to crash the last stop. It is just as well, anyway – my husband likes vanilla and strawberry, and I love coffee. :)

  2. May 24, 2012 10:03 am

    While I love butter pecan and it always takes me back to childhood (even crappy butter pecan), I’m definitely a vanilla for Saturday. Drew’s going for chocolate. We’ll probably cross-sample too. I just hope the sugar doesn’t make my brain explode like it did after the cupcake tasting.

  3. May 24, 2012 10:19 am

    I never knew that there was a Tin Roof ice cream- I always knew it as a Sundae: Vanilla ice cream with fudge sauce and salted peanuts.

    • May 24, 2012 10:36 am

      Exactly – and it’s similar to a Turtle Sundae (which I can’t find in the Northeast anywhere – every time I’ve tried to order one at an ice cream shop I get a blank stare), which was hot fudge, hot caramel and toasted pecans over vanilla ice cream. Delicious!!!

  4. May 24, 2012 10:22 am

    Stewart’s used to make the BEST Tin Roof ice cream….alas that is no more :(

  5. Jessica R permalink
    May 24, 2012 10:54 am

    First, props for the Ani DiFranco reference.
    Second, sorry I can’t join this weekend! This should be a fun an informative tour. Still, San Diego vacation wins out by a boatload.
    Third – since we are throwing out sundae ideas that can’t be found in this area – The Dusty Road. This is basically any ice ceam and sauce with malted milk powder on top of the sundae. Most people do it with chocolate ice cream and marshmallow sauce. The malted powder adds a great flavor and a little texture through the sundae.
    The solution to all our “can’t find this sundae around here” woes – Stewart’s Make Your Own Sundae Bar! This is where I go for my Dusty Roads.

  6. maryonhudson permalink
    May 24, 2012 11:03 am

    Tour-de-too-far-north for me. Plan to try hard ice-creams closer to home, while waiting for the results of the tour.

  7. May 24, 2012 11:29 am

    No way — I’ve almost never seen a mint chip ice cream that was white. Traditionally, it’s green, like a peppermint plant. If it’s white, people tend to look at it and think “um, I ordered mint… this looks like chocolate chip.”

    I’ve been trying to decide what kind I’m going to go with for weeks now, and I still haven’t decided. Maybe vanilla, ’cause it’s a good base flavor and easy to tell great from awful. Or chocolate, ’cause I love chocolate — or peanut butter cup, if it’s universally available. Or maybe coffee, ’cause I really like coffee, too. It’s hard, ’cause my instinct is to pick whatever flavor I’d be most likely to order, but that totally changes depending on what I’m craving on any given day.

    Also, to balance out the cranky comment above this one, I’d like to thank you for touring ALL of the Capital Region this time, not just the extreme southern parts that are way out of the way for many of us (or, in the case of the last doughnut tour, heading waaaaay south of our area entirely).

    • May 24, 2012 7:41 pm

      I’m with you, KB. Call it societal conditioning, but it is way trippy for me to see a white mint chip. Having said that, the times I’ve tried white mint chip ice creams, they have been quite tasty.

      • May 25, 2012 10:11 am

        I agree that most mint ice cream I’ve been served is green but the few times it’s been white (Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie is white) I’ve appreciated it because really, who wants to eat nasty food coloring?

  8. May 24, 2012 1:43 pm

    I’m hoping that the stands will sell ice cream by the single scoop. At places like Stewart’s a “single scoop cone” means one scoop well packed into the cone plus another on top. This is all well and good, but we’re talking five stops on this trip. Will there be an ice cream loving dog?

    • May 25, 2012 10:09 am

      Most places sell kiddie cones. Perfect amount for a tasting.

  9. May 24, 2012 1:46 pm

    “Mint Chocolate Chip – It should be white and not green, dammit.”

    Oh goodness, bless you, I just, I can’t. There aren’t a whole lot of things I feel irrationally angry about, but this is one of them. I refuse to eat mint ice cream that is green. No. The only ice cream that should be green is a pistachio one. I’ve gotten a LOT of flack for this but I believe, deep down in my soul, that green mint chocolate chip ice cream is just wrong. Whatever.

    I think I’m actually going to make this one, very excited! I’m thinking of going with standard chocolate, since that’s pretty much the only thing I ever get when I eat ice cream out.

    • Kerosena permalink
      May 24, 2012 2:37 pm

      I picked up a pint of Ice Cream Man Grasshopper Brownie at the Meat House last week. It was nearly white, but had the faintest tint of green. Like you had to really look at it, and maybe turn on another light in order to see the tint. It was nice. I prefer white mint, but this was close enough for me!

    • May 24, 2012 2:58 pm

      While we’re on the subject, I’m not sure I understand why pistachio ice cream is neon green, either. Add one vote for creamy-beige pistachio ice cream.

      • May 24, 2012 9:17 pm

        I picked up a pint of Ice Cream Man pistachio at Shop Rite tonight. It is delicious and yes, it’s green. I think the color is in part so you can tell it from a tub of butter pecan. I can understand mint ice cream being green- it suggests that bruised mint was in contact with the mixture- false as that might be.

  10. May 25, 2012 10:12 am

    Sigh, I should really stay away from this thread. I’m so bummed to miss this particular tour!

  11. May 26, 2012 7:43 pm

    I’ve just had 3 servings of Strawberry ice cream that i do not want to repeat.

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