We all scream for ice cream

By Frank Whitman

Those few hot days back in April turned my thoughts to ice cream.  Summer-like temperatures are a reliable trigger for frozen treats.

It’s not easy to choose

Stopping by the ice-cream stand on a steamy afternoon is a hot-weather indulgence – cool and creamy richness (and a little guilt) all sitting atop a cone. It’s a pleasure just to stand and contemplate the flavor board on a warm, humid evening – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or some mashup of flavors and textures that’s all the rage.  It’s almost impossible to choose. 

We all have our go-to places: old favorites like Sweet Ashley’s in Norwalk and Scoops in Wilton or trendy stops like Saugatuck Sweets in Westport and the just-opened Van Leeuwen in Darien. All offer rich, luxurious ice cream in favorite flavors – plain or fancy. 

But when the craving hits and you’re home in your jammies or it’s just too hot (or cold or wet or too late) to go out, it’s good to have a few cartons in the freezer.  

In the store, I find myself staring at the freezer case wondering which brand to get. A tasting panel was the path to enlightenment. I gathered a few friends who volunteered to taste some store brands. 

Happy tasters

To level the playing field, the samples would all be vanilla.  Mass market brands included Friendly’s, Turkey Hill Simply Natural, Breyer’s and Kirkland (Costco).  Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen Dazs, and Van Leeuwen represented the high-end premium options.  

Six of us gathered on a cold, rainy afternoon to blind-taste a small scoop of all seven and then compare notes and pick favorites. It wasn’t easy. 

Every entry had a fan. Four were picked as the favorite, four got second place, and five were in third.  No brand was skunked – all getting at least two votes. Still there was some consensus. 

Seven samples

The Kirkland, with two firsts, and one each second and third was the overall favorite. Comments included: yum; most solidly uniform texture; most appealing color; and super smooth and buttery.  It was also the best value, at roughly $1.87 per pint, although you have to buy two large containers.

Haagen Dazs, the pioneer in the premium ice cream business, garnered four votes, two first and two third place, for the number two spot.  “Sweet cream flavor with a natural taste, lean and healthy, creamy, and strongest vanilla flavor,” were some of the notes.  

Third, but with support across the board, tasters thought the Van Leeuwen was, “buttery, smooth and rich, creamy and super smooth.”  Eggs as an ingredient added to the rich, long-lasting mouthfeel and flavor. 

Serious business

All three of the favorites listed cream as the first ingredient.  The Van Leeuwen runs $5.99 for 14 oz and Haagen Dazs $6.39 for 14 oz.  Kirkland, the value brand by a long shot, cost $14.99 for a gallon, which works out to less than two bucks for a pint.  Eat up!

Friendly’s was a close fourth with two seconds and a third. It also earned a “Yum” along with “Good vanilla, rich, and smooth.” A good deal at $5.49 for 1.5 qt.

A younger perspective

With all this ice cream on hand, we tasted with our daughter’s family to get a younger perspective from  two tasters aged 12 and 7.  Everyone liked the Kirkland – “natural vanilla, and rich” were the common themes. Van Leeuwen fared well – “bold warm vanilla and rich with mild flavor” were two comments. Turkey Hill was popular, especially with the younger tasters due in large part to its “vanilla forward character”.  

There were no losers here, just varying degrees of preference. The bottom line from this unscientific and highly personal tasting: If you’re having a crowd, go to Costco; for just you two, pop for a premium brand; for everyday try Friendly’s; for a kids party – Turkey Hill.