OK, I've never actually met anyone who doesn't like ice cream, except this one guy who said he could take it or leave it. Maybe he was having personal problems — or perhaps he was lactose intolerant.
Tantalizing in taste, texture and temperature, there is something almost unbearably sensual about ice cream. It starts as a creamy solid and melts slowly, extravagantly around your tongue, releasing its sweetness and the secrets of its more delicate flavors into your mouth.
I'll never forget the look on my daughter's face when she first tasted ice cream as a toddler. Initially shocked and confused, she puckered her lips against the sudden cold. As the rich chocolate seeped through, her eyes widened in delight and her mouth parted into an eager smile, little hands reaching for the cone.
Frozen desserts have been tempting us for thousands of years. Nero (A.D. 37-68) was a fan of ice flavored with honey and fruit, and there is some evidence that the Chinese created the first iced dairy delicacy. America has literally grown up on ice cream; both Washington and Jefferson were known for serving it to their guests and our first public ice cream parlor opened in New York in 1776.
Ice cream represents democracy at its best. Price points range from about 50 cents for kid-friendly pushups to thousand dollar sundaes served in a crystal goblet with an 18-carat gold spoon at Manhattan's Serendipity 3. Ice cream flavors have been designed to meet the needs of every personality and mood: from traditional vanilla, fruity strawberry and nutty Rocky Road, to abstract Blue Moon and even exotic wasabi.
What makes ice cream ice cream? While many desserts are made from its key ingredients of cream, milk, sugar and flavorings, to be labeled "ice cream" according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IFDA), the confection in question must contain at least 10% milk fat and weigh at least 4.5 pounds per gallon.
Frozen custard is the same as ice cream, but also contains at least 1.4% egg yolk. Sherbet has between 1-2% milk fat and slightly more sweetener than ice cream. The Italian version, gelato, differs in that it usually has more intense flavor and is served semi-frozen. Sorbet, the oldest form of frozen dessert, contains no dairy and is made of sweetened ice flavored with fruit, chocolate, wine or liqueur. Frozen yogurt is exactly what it says — frozen yogurt.
For my taste, Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk® is the best of the best. To date, Oink's Dutch Treat in New Buffalo, Michigan is my favorite ice cream parlor. Offering 55 flavors, Oink's make it hard to choose (try the cherry with chocolate flakes).
Perhaps it's no coincidence that I have landed in Evanston, IL, a town that lays claim to naming the ice cream sundae (duking it out with Ithaca, NY and Two Rivers, WI for the bragging rights). In a cup or a cone, in a sundae or alone, ice cream may be the perfect food — except the part where it's bad for your diet … and your cholesterol … and your thighs.
Here's where living in Evanston meets my needs in a whole new way. The other day, my girl friend called and said: "Pick me up. I need frozen yogurt." Why bother, I thought. "This stuff is the best," she said, reading my mind, "and only 90 calories for a small." I have assiduously avoided the nutrition information on Ben & Jerry cartons, but for the purposes of this essay, I thought I better do the research. Those who don't want to know should skip on down to the next paragraph. New York Super Fudge Chunk contains 300 calories per 1/2 cup serving. Yikes.
So, we went to the new frozen yogurt place in town, Red Mango™. It was two minutes to closing and the place was mobbed. I looked up at the menu to discover that they offer only two flavors — original and green tea. The cynic in me could barely justify a late night dessert run that did not include chocolate, but since my friend was buying, I tried a small original with fresh raspberries.
Look out, B&J, I may have found a new home. Curiously satisfying, this treat offers all the fun of ice cream for less than a third of the caloric price. It has a little bit of sour mixed with the sweet, and you can add fresh fruit, as well as some weird dry toppings (Fruity Pebbles, anyone?). It even claims to be good for you, containing no artificial anything and something called probiotics, credited with improving digestive health and the immune system.
So, if you're lucky enough to live in Illinois, California, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah or Washington, then get yourself to Red Mango (unless you live in Evanston; then you should stay home, because the line is already too long). I know it sounds like I've gone over to the dark side, but this is a true ice cream lover talking, so you can trust me.
If you're drooling over your keyboard now, you may be happy to learn that July is National Ice Cream Month and that, this year, National Ice Cream Day will be celebrated on Sunday, July 20. Click here to let me know how you plan to celebrate.
Photo credit: Ice Cream Cone ~ 8 scoops + 3 Diamond Rings by Tiffany by Prayitno via a Creative Commons license.