Making ice creams is balancing four facets of flavor: taste, texture, consistency and finish. At the center of the magical ice cream-making experience is butterfat, the carrier of scent and to me, one of the sexiest things in the world.
I’ll just go ahead and say it: Butterfat is sexy. Butterfat, more than anything, beautifully enrobes flavor, and when luscious frozen butterfat melts on your warm tongue, flavor is carried straight to your nose, volatizes, and the sounds of so many mmmm!, ooohs!, ahhhs!, and whoas!fill the room.
The experience of eating a dense, velvety and made-from-the-ground-up ice cream — one that’s been created with attention to every detail — is second to none. In November we will celebrate our 10th year of making ice creams from the ground up. It’s a landmark year for us all at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams for sure. But what is more significant than any anniversary attached to a round number is that — albeit on a larger scale — we’re still hand-making ice creams the way I did when I founded Jeni’s with one dipping cabinet in 2002 in Columbus, Ohio’s North Market.
Made with Ohio cream
Today, my small dedicated team and I operate a family of 10 scoop shops in Ohio and Nashville, Tenn. Year-round we ship ice creams — made with exquisite grass-grazed Ohio cream — to homes coast to coast. More than 300 retailers carry the pints we fill by hand and identify with hand-written labels. Every day via Facebook, Twitter and our blog (saltycaramel.com), fans share their stories of making their own ice creams with my book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and clamor for new flavor ideas.
As proud as I am of all of that, I’m most proud our ice cream-making process. From cheese makers, beer brewers, spirit and wine makers and fruit, vegetable, and herb growers, to our chocolate maker in Missouri (Shawn Askinosie) and our vanilla bean grower in Uganda (Lulu Sturdy), I know the majority of our suppliers personally. And, if it wasn’t cultivated by someone we know, almost all of what we blend into ice creams (cakes, cookies, marshmallows, sauces) we make from scratch in our kitchen. It’s true: all ice creams are not created equal. We prove it every day in our kitchen.
Everything we create begins with the sturdiest and most delicious of foundations: naturally sweet cream from southeast Ohio. We do not dump into a machine a universal, off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all ice cream mix as do most large or even “craft” or “artisanal” companies. We use Snowville Creamery’s minimally processed cream from grass-grazed cows.
When Snowville owner Warren Taylor started out, he found (as most dairy men and women do) that customers favored skim and 2% milk (despite the indisputable deliciousness of whole milk). That meant he had a lot of cream left over at the end of the day—a fact he wasn’t as keen on.
Enter Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. We buy all he can produce (and then some) and now we (the milkman and ice cream maven) enjoy a beautiful symbiotic relationship. As we both grow, together we are inspiring more small southeast Ohio family farmers to rear grass-grazed cows and contribute to the cause of thick, ultra-creamy, ultra-flavorful American-style ice cream.
At Snowville, raw skim milk is separated from raw cream and concentrated through a nano-filtration system, which removes about 60% of the water and concentrates the proteins, lactose and other ingredients in the milk. The mixture is added proportionally back into the cream, mixed with sugar and pasteurized once in a batch pasteurizer, which builds flavor and texture in our ice creams. Afterward, it’s shot through a homogenizer, which also helps us build body in our ice creams, and the base is trucked 100 miles to our kitchen.
Knowledge courtesy of OSU
Every day in our kitchen, we steep real ingredients directly in that superior cream, make our ice creams in batch freezers, and pack every pint by hand. And the people who work in that kitchen — the majority being detail-oriented artists, musicians, photographers and aspiring chefs — may not think about it when they’re pinting a batch of Salty Caramel ice cream, but they’re directly applying lessons I’ve learned since I made my first-ever batch of ice cream in the mid 1990s. They’re using knowledge I gained by making use of the Ohio State University dairy school’s generous open-door policy. The sum of all those things leads to thicker, creamier, more delicious ice cream.
When I founded Jeni’s in 2002, I didn’t set out to make the best ice creams in Columbus, America, or even the world. I set out to make the best ice creams possible. The reason our ice creams are so good is because we believe we can improve them constantly. We make better ice cream today than we did yesterday, and we will make better ice creams tomorrow than we do today—thanks to the way we make them and will always make them: from the ground up with oh-so-sexy butterfat.