I moved to Minnesota in 1998, and was surprised by the ready availability of great local ice cream and frozen treats. Why should a state that's cold for seven months of the year specialize in a warm-weather treat? Soon, I stopped wondering why and just appreciated it.
It's not so mysterious, though. Minnesota's dairy farms provide about 40,000 jobs, and produced 776 million pounds of fresh milk in April 2010. (Wisconsin produces about three times as much: 2.2 billion pounds!) In addition to milk, dairy farmers help to provide cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream and other frozen treats. (In the U.S., dairy usually refers to milk produced by cows, but worldwide, dairy is produced by sheep, goats, yaks, buffalo, and horses.)
Ice cream is the most popular frozen treat in America. It's usually made from milk or cream, sugar, and other ingredients to flavor it. The mix is stirred slowly as it freezes to prevent crystal formation; this results in a smooth texture. The stirring also incorporates air, which can increase the volume by up to 50 percent. By law, ice cream must have at least 10 percent milkfat. (Premium ice creams can have up to 18 percent milkfat.) Because it's frozen, most ice cream and frozen treats have no preservatives.
Frozen custard has a similar milkfat percentage to ice cream, but is also made with eggs, which must be 1.4 percent of the weight of the product. It is churned more slowly than ice cream, with the intention of pushing air out rather than in. Along with the eggs, this results in a denser, richer tasting product.
Gelato is Italy's variation of ice cream made with milk, sugar and other ingredients for flavor. It has a milkfat content of 4 to 8 percent. Gelato is made with a hot process, then frozen quickly in small batches. Like custard, gelato has a lower percentage of air then ice cream, about 20 to 35 percent.
June is National Dairy Month. To celebrate, I tracked down some of the Twin Cities' best frozen treats, and found out a little bit more about these local treasures.
Adele's Frozen Custard was voted “Best Ice Cream/Frozen Custard on the Lake!” in the First Annual Tonka Times Compass Awards. Adele's has chocolate and vanilla frozen custard every day, and a rotating calendar of other flavors. The most popular flavor is the only one they make more than one time a month, Chocolate Raspberry Truffle, a chocolate base with fresh raspberries and truffle sauce mixed in by hand. The custard is made on site, daily starting at 7:00 a.m. They use milk from a neighboring state, and Adele's motto is “Ice Cream Made Better!”
The day I visited, I had a lunch of a nicely spiced pulled pork, chips and a pickle spear, then finished with a two-flavor dish of chocolate and vanilla with chocolate chips. There was a constant stream of customers, including school and sports groups, but the team behind the counter was friendly and efficient, so the line moved quickly.
Crema Cafe has been at 34th and Lyndale since 1994, but Sonny's ice cream has been made in that location for 65 years. SIXTY-FIVE YEARS, people! Sonny Siron bought his uncle's ice cream shop in 1945. Nearly fifty years later, Sonny's son Ron and business partner Carrie Gustafson used their combined savings to launch Crema Cafe to bring Sonny's small-batch local ice cream and sorbet to the city. It's been winning awards ever since, most recently for Best Ice Cream in Minnesota Monthly's Best of the Twin Cities. There's also espresso drinks and more recently breakfast, lunch and dinner. At one time, the priority for ingredients was organic. This has shifted to a primary emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients, organic when possible, from farms and farmers they know. They use milk from a dairy in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, and organic eggs (in the café) from Larry Schultz. Sonny's signature flavor, Crema, is the only one of more than 1,000 (and counting) available year-round. It's made with cream infused with espresso beans, and is even more delicious when served in a shot of espresso. Ice cream for breakfast? You betcha. And with a good book, plus fresh local eggs on their lovely, serene piazza, it's a slice of heaven.
Pumphouse Creamery is the popular next-door neighbor to Turtle Bread on Chicago Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis. The City Pages picked it as Best Ice Cream Parlor of 2010. Its ice cream is made on site, with milk from Crystal Ball Farm in Osceola, Wisconsin. A plethora of local, organic ingredients are used for flavor. Pumphouse Creamery’s ice cream has a lower sugar content than others, and is sweetened with cane sugar or honey. The most popular flavor is Sea Salt and Caramel with Praline Pecans.
Ice cream and cutting edge technology aren't usually used in the same sentence, unless you're talking about St. Paul's Izzy's Ice Cream. As we reported in May, they now use RFID technology to give fans up-to-the-moment updates on flavors. Another thing that makes Izzy's special is the one-ounce Izzy scoop on sizes single and above. Can't decide? Don't need to! Just pick which flavor you'd like more of and get a second (or third, or fourth...) flavor as the Izzy. When I visited last weekend, my husband got Salted Caramel, the most popular flavor for adults. I had a scoop of Midnight Snack – graham cracker ice cream with peanut butter swirls and chocolate chunks. My boys both chose the Blue Cotton Candy, the most popular flavor among kids. Izzy's ice creams are made from milk and cream from Neenah, Wisconsin. They are particularly committed to working with local businesses, and have flavors with ingredients from the Birchwood Cafe, Peace Coffee, Tea Source, Wuollet Bakery, Summit Brewing Company, and Wild Country maple syrup.
The Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul is celebrating its 26th year on Grand Avenue, but it also has a location in Minneapolis. The evening we visited, there was a line out the door, and the smell of the waffle cones baking in the front window kept everyone captivated. I had the most popular flavor, Black Hills Gold -- caramel ice cream with pralines and Oreo cookies. The base for their ice cream is made by a local dairy, and they use cane sugar to sweeten their treats. They're a family-owned and operated business that makes small batches of their premium ice cream daily.
Not yet a year old, Jackson's Coffee and Gelato is a relative newcomer to this group, but has been enthusiastically received by Twin Citizens eager for authentic Italian-style gelato. Owner Tom Paschke makes every pan himself, on site, using local milk along with authentic Italian ingredients and recipes. The women in front of me in line ordered the most popular flavor, Black Chocolate, but I opted for Key Lime Pie, a sweet/tart treat well suited to hot, humid weather.
Finally, ice cream doesn't get much more local than the University of Minnesota's Dairy Salesroom, open to the public on Wednesdays from 3 to 5:00 p.m. The ice cream there is made using milk from campus in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition in the Joseph J. Wathensen Food Processing Center. The signature flavor is Gopher Gold, a French vanilla base with a raspberry chocolate ripple. As detailed in this piece at Heavy Table last year, regular customers hope to see their favorite flavors, which rotate, but are always on the lookout for fresh cheese curds—you know, the squeaky kind. The salesroom helps fund teaching and research initiatives.
I realize this list isn’t complete. (The owner of Sebastian Joe’s was never there when I called, so I apologize for the omission.) So please let us know if we missed your favorite.
One other thing: while researching local ice creams may seem like a sweet gig, it had repercussions, not only in the way my jeans now fit, but also in how wound up my kids were at bedtime after visiting yet another ice cream shop. Maybe the woman who got a babysitter so she could shop for ice cream solo is on to something.
Kristin J. Boldon lives in Northeast Minneapolis with her husband and two sons. She grew up in Central Ohio, but moved to Minnesota in 1998 from the east coast. (We're glad she stayed!) Kristin has a B.S. in Business from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Religion from Temple. In her so-called spare time, she cooks, bakes, practices yoga, reads, and writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl Detective. Her last post for Simple Good and Tasty was A Sugar by Any Other Name Would Taste as Sweet.