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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

San Francisco's artisan ice cream scene

Have you heard of the SF Chefs 2012 event (presented by Visa Signature Card) being held in San Francisco from July 30th to August 5th, 2012? If you're a foodie you may want to check out their upcoming schedule. A multitude of warm-up and preview culinary events have already begun leading up to the big week where the Grand Tasting Tent is set up in Union Square and demos and delctable dinners take place in the city by the bay.

A couple of weeks ago I signed up to attend an Ice Cream Social at the Williams Sonoma store in downtown San Francisco on Post Street. My friend Loretta also signed up. For the price of a ticket ($21.49) I heard and watched Robyn Sue Goldman tell the story of how Smitten Ice Cream came into being. Her presentation was followed by another demo and story telling by Jake Godby and Sean Vahey, Humphry Slocombe's co-owners. Annnnnnnnnnnd the clincher? There would be samples involved :P

I'd heard of Smitten Ice Cream once before. I remembered because the stand out thing about Robyn is that she uses liquid nitrogen to create ice cream, from scratch, by the serving.

It's really quite amazing. With no machine design background she envisioned and developed the Kelvin, her very special ice cream making machine that makes the smoothest ice cream possible in 60 seconds.

That afternoon we sampled her Fresh Mint TCHO (pronounced CHO) Chip ice cream. It's like the soul of the mint plant, not just the essence, was taken straight from a garden and infused into this frosty treat. To say it was fresh or bright tasting doesn't explain just how clean and crisp the mint tastes. Add to it the TCHO chocolate and it was the mint chip ice cream I've been waiting to meet (and eat) my entire life :)

The liquid nitrogen basically freezes the ingredients so quickly it doesn't have time to form ice crystals which explains the smoothness of the ice cream's texture. For instance, Robyn pointed out that the temperature of dry ice, which is often used to keep ice cream frozen is -109.3º while the temperature of liquid nitrogen is -320.44º.

A dramatically cold and delicious innovation when it comes to how to quickly make retail ice cream, batch by batch, as the customer waits and watches.

And then came Humphry Slocombe. You may recall I visited their shop for the first time when I had dessert before dinner on my Birthday earlier this year. They are well known for their outrageous flavors like "Secret Breakfast" (bourbon with toasted corn flakes) and the "Boccalone Proscuitto" ice cream. For the less boozy or carnivorous there's always the classic caramel "Dulce de Leche," a flavor so popular a lady once came it to buy some for her dying cat's last meal on earth. Seriously.

Jake (right) and Sean (left) were hilarious and an absolute pleasure to listen to. They recounted some of the shops most popular, stand out and troublesome flavors. In the Q&A I was able to ask a few questions that weren't really ice cream related:

Is there a story behind the taxidermied two headed calf in your shop? Sean replied "Great question!" The calf, as it turns out, is on loan from a friend who has a collection of two headed calves! He said they first thought it would scare the kids but as it turns out the kids love it and the adults are the ones who are creeped out a bit when they see it hanging on the wall.

And for Jake:
How many ice cream cones are tattooed on your arm? 31. No particular flavors, just 31 cones. LOL

And soon the Dulce de Leche was ready. 

I looooooooooved it!

After, we headed down to Hayes Valley to check out Smitten's shop. I was curious to see it after Robyn said it was made from a recycled shipping container. And it's moveable. Not in the day to day sense but if they ever decide to change locations the entire shop can be relocated. Brilliant!

So cute. From what we heard there's always a line at both Smitten and Humphry Slocombe.

The menu board lists the flavors of the day and uses pictures to show you what ingredients are in each flavor. The Fresh Mint TCHO Chip uses milk, sugar, mint and TCHO chocolate nibs. None of the usual artificial ingredients or preservatives often found in ice cream.

A Kelvin hard at work making my order for me.

Thick and creamy.

And just like that *voilà* Ice cream. It tasted even better than the picture makes it look. I so wish I could have a scoop for breakfast every morning. It's that refreshing and invigorating.

But our excursion has a final chapter yet to come. Both Loretta and I purchased the Humphry Slocombe ice cream cook book. As SF Chef ticket holders we were given a one day discount at Williams Sonoma. The only sad thing was they were sold out so we had to back-order our copies. They're being autographed by Jake and Sean and then we can go pick them up the next time we're in SF. I'm sure this summer I'll be posting about at least one or two flavors I'll try to make once I have the book in my kitchen.

To go get your ice cream straight from the sources:

Smitten Ice Cream - website
432 Octavia St. #1a (corner of Octavia St. & Linden St., Hayes Valley)
San Francisco, CA 94102 - map

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream - website
2790 A Harrison Street (corner of 24th)
San Francisco, CA 94110 - map

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