We scream for ice cream
Give summer the cold shoulder on a tour of Ontario’s greatest ice-cream scoop shops
When it comes to ice cream, Doug Goff is always on the lookout for weird and wonderful flavours.
“If there’s a strange one on the list, I’m the guy who will try it,” says Goff, a University of Guelph professor of food science, who specializes in dairy — specifically, in ice cream.
Bizarre entries to his flavour inventory range from salmon and lobster to jalapeño pepper.
Sampling could be considered research for the ice cream expert. He’s penned a textbook, published various studies and taught courses on the subject for the last two decades.
With such credentials, it seems only fitting to ask this ice cream guru: why do we have a love affair with the stuff?
“It’s a fun, social product, and people associate it with good times like vacations, family outings and birthday parties,” Goff says. “It also satisfies a great number of taste needs and craving sensations. It’s creamy, smooth, sweet and cold — and it comes in a wide variety of flavours.”
Canadian per capita consumption is about 9 litres per year, which is similar to larger European countries. In the US, per capita consumption is 22 litres per year.
“Ontario is the hub of ice cream manufacturing in Canada,” Goff says, with about 90 percent of the national production. The three biggest players in Canada’s market are Chapman’s, Nestlé and Unilever, which makes brands such as Breyers.
But there are smaller, independent manufacturers, often attached
to dairies, scattered throughout the province.
Take Kawartha Dairy in Bobcaygeon, northeast of Toronto. Once exclusive to cottage country, this popular brand is now available across central Ontario.
Despite its expanding market, vice president and general manager Blake Frazer says its premium quality hasn’t been compromised. “We still make ice cream the old-fashioned way,” says Frazer, whose marketing strategy recognized that cottagers might need that Kawartha fix during the off-season. “If you look at the ingredients, the first two items are fresh milk and fresh cream.”
The loyal customer base stems from its exceptional creaminess. “Long line ups at the take-out windows are legendary,” he explains. On hot summer days, customers can wait up to 30 minutes for a single cone.
Additional company-owned retail outlets are located in Minden, Bancroft, Lindsay, Uxbridge and Huntsville. This year, the company will churn out about 2 million litres of ice cream.
While Kawartha is sticking to old-fashioned methods of production, a growing number of manufacturers are abandoning the popular milk and cream formula. Several are now using mixes or imported butteroil-sugar blends. Nearly half the butterfat used in ice cream comes from imported blends, according to industry estimates. In short, it’s a substitute for Canadian-based dairy fat, an issue that angers some Ontario dairy farmers.
Because some manufacturers have reformulated their recipes, consumers may notice that “frozen dessert” now appears on some supermarket products previously labelled ice cream.
“The larger players are doing this for cost savings,” says Frazer, from his office overlooking the dairy, which has been owned by the Crowe family for 71 years.
A good cone can still be found at Mapleton’s
Organic Dairy near Elora. Traditional favourites and specialty flavours, including dandelion, are offered at this scooping shop, located right at a dairy farm. Its products are also sold at health food stores and higher end supermarkets.
“My wife’s really creative,” says Martin de Groot, who owns and operates the farm and dairy with his wife, Ineke Booy. “She’s always coming up with new flavours.”
Mapleton’s processes its own milk (from 70 resident cattle) into certified organic premium ice cream, as well as frozen and fresh yogurt. At the 240-hectare farm, you may spot the cow or free-range chicken that helped to provide ingredients for your cone.
“Our products really are farm fresh,” says de Groot, while relaxing at the dairy’s ice cream café and organic grocery store. Dressed like a scientist, wearing a white lab coat and hair net (he just finished making a batch of cappuccino ice cream), the 54-year-old stresses the importance of bringing people to the farm.
“It’s a great way to reduce food miles,” he explains. “The more we can sell off the farm, the better it is for the environment.”
While vanilla is the taste front runner (not just here, but at many establishments), de Groot says there’s a psychology behind picking flavours. “Someone should do a study on it,” he laughs.
From years of scooping experience, de Groot
believes women are more daring when choosing flavours, and men tend to opt for traditional favourites. Young women like cappuccino, and teenage boys tend to order chocolate or chocolate chip, says the organic ice cream maker. Kids go for the sweeter tastes or the
traditional mainstays like vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. “Before people even order, I can usually guess what flavour they will choose,” says de Groot.
And customers give glowing accolades. “I like it because it’s unique,” says Gerry Hucko, who was buying cartons of ginger and dandelion. “After 63 years of sampling ice cream, I like something that’s different.”
Creative cold and creamy tastes are also featured at Slickers in Bloomfield. “Local, seasonal produce dictate the flavours we make,” says Pat Hacker, who has co-owned the artisanal scooping shop with Marie Frye since 1997.
A sampling of gourmet flavours include roasted marshmallow “campfire cream,” rhubarb ginger, Concord grape, gogiberry (a darling of the health food realm), and chocolate Jack Daniels. “We love to mess around in the kitchen and come up with new recipes,” explains Hacker enthusiastically. The shop even offers a line of herb-infused flavours such as basil and lavender. “We’ve even made garlic and corn ice cream,” she adds.
The epicurean ice cream maker loves her chosen career. “It’s a luxury to sell something that is associated with happiness,” she says.
It’s also a family-friendly tradition that’s relatively affordable. Many in the industry even say it’s recession proof. Arthur “Rosy” Rosenzweig of St. Clair Ice Cream, a Toronto landmark since 1932, tells a great story to illustrate this point.
“The original founder [of St. Clair Ice Cream] got into the ice cream business after noticing that, even during the Great Depression, people just seemed to be able to find that nickel for a cone,” says Rosenzweig, who has owned the company since 1987.
Ice cream aficionados should also check out Steen’s Dairy in Erin. “We’re a real old-fashioned kind of place,” says Marie Maltby, 69, who has been the manager of the dairy bar for 32 years. “It’s like stepping back in time when you come here.”
The 61-year-old dairy bar features 16 bar stools where you indulge in a dish of handmade ice cream. There’s also a great bench outside to relax with a cone and watch the world go by. The Steen family also runs the on-site dairy, which processes organic milk.
“Our ice cream is very creamy,” says Maltby, who readily admits to doing lots of quality control. But the dairy bar is most famous for its homemade milkshakes.
Regular customer Robert Turnbull, age 42, would agree. “The chocolate milkshakes are fantastic,” he says, while waiting for his order. “They just have that small-town-dairy taste, and nothing else can match it.”
After scooping thousands of cones during her tenure, Maltby says that the best part about ice cream is its universal appeal: “You’re never too old to enjoy it.”
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