Dairy Foodseditor in chief  Jim Carper sizes up ice creams and gelati at a festival in Chicago, then dives in.

One afternoon last month, I headed to Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood for the third annual Chicago Ice Cream & Gelato Festival. By the time I arrived, I was tense from fighting traffic and looking for a parking space. But as soon as I entered the venue (on the third floor of the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame) and saw eight ice cream and gelato exhibitors, the tension melted, replaced with anticipation. I dove in.

But where to start? Marion Street Cheese Market, Oak Park, Ill.,  was serving Honey Plum and Smoky Blue Cheese ice cream. Goat cheese found its way into ice cream served with amarena strawberries and rhubarb preserves from the Cibo Matto restaurant in The Wit hotel, Chicago.

Fabrice Bouet, the pastry chef at Hilton’s Hotels’ Palmer House, tempted me with Brownie ice cream. He told me that the Palmer House invented the brownie for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Bouet bakes the brownies from the original recipe and adds them to his ice cream.

Marion Street Cheese Market

Ice cream's It Girl

Ice cream’s “It Girl” Jeni Britton Bauer, owner of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Columbus, Ohio, prepared fennel pollen-scented ice cream. She scored the pollen from Zingerman’s Creamery, Ann Arbor, Mich., which served my favorite of the evening: ginger gelato. Another Wolverine State exhibitor was Hudsonville Ice Cream, Holland. 

Graeter’s of Cincinnati scooped its popular black raspberry chocolate chip. Other exhibitors were Mitchell’s, Homewood, Ill.; and Lifeway, Morton Grove, Ill.

 The exhibitors were from the Midwest, but festival organizer Jeff Reid told me he wants to develop this into a national event, along the lines of the Aspen Food & Wine Festival. There was an alcohol component to the festival. On the museum’s rooftop, two microbreweries sampled their beers, and another exhibitor served chicken tacos. I tried one of everything, then headed back downstairs for more dessert. I can’t wait until next year.

 See more photos from the event on the Dairy Foods Facebook page.

Mitchell's Soda Shop