When you’re in the supermarket walking down the ice cream aisle, you’re probably tempted by at least a few of the many ice cream flavors that are out there. Do you ever stop to wonder where the ice cream that you’re tasting comes from? I never spent much time thinking about it, although there are enough food shows out there that give you a behind-the-scenes look at the research and development labs at food companies that I knew there were food scientists out there somewhere trying to make up the perfect flavor.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Traverse City, Michigan with a group of other amazing bloggers – Sara & Kate, from Our Best Bites, Tricia, from Once a Month Mom, Heather, from Heather’s Dish, Colleen, from Pretty Prudent, Kristy, from Sweet Treats & More, Kelley, from Mountain Mama Cooks, Tessa, from Handle the Heat and Christy, from Southern Plate – for the State of Great Taste Event to get a peek behind the scenes of Private Selection brand ice cream and to try our hands at designing their next delicious ice cream flavor. Private Selection, if you’re not familiar with it, is the high end private lable brand for Kroger and other affiliated supermarkets (in my area, it happens to be Ralphs), and they produce a premium ice cream that competes with higher end ice cream brands.
Michigan and ice cream came together because Private Selection is releasing a brand new regional flavor, Michigan Cherry Cobbler Ice Cream. We were in Traverse City – a beautiful vacation town on the shore of Lake Michigan – to visit the farm where all of the cherries that go into that ice cream flavor are grown. A lot of the time, when you think of a product that is produced on a (relatively) large scale for a national market, buyers assume that the ingredients all come from impersonal commercial facilities. Old Mission Fruit Company certainly grows cherries on a large scale, but they are family owned and operated and owners Bern and Cheryl Kroupa were happy to show off their latest crop to us. We arrived on the first day of the harvest for this season and toured through rows and rows of cherry trees that were within days of being picked.
They grow several varieties of cherries at Old Mission Fruit Company. Sweet dark cherries are the type that you’ll usually see for sale as eating cherries, although they make a great cherry cobbler (or pie!) and are the star cherry of the Michigan Cherry Cobbler Ice Cream. These cherries have a dark, rich flesh and bright red juice.
Other varieties of cherries have a clear flesh, and many of those are slated to become maraschino cherries because they easily pick up the bright red dye that is used to color that type of cherry, which is often used for garnishing drinks or adding a pop of color to something like an ice cream sundae.
There are also lots of tart cherries on the farm. These cherries have a much more puckery flavor than the sweet cherries and find their way into juice, baked goods and other cherry treats, though they’re not eaten out of hand quite as often as the sweet cherries.
After our tour of the orchard (and nibbling more than a few cherries straight off the trees!), we were treated to some cherry cocktails and a beautiful dinner right in the middle of the orchard. There probably aren’t too many places as scenic to have a picnic as a cherry orchard – especially if you’re being served cherry cobbler ice cream (and apple crumble pie) made with cherries from that very orchard for dessert.
After getting inspired by the produce that went into the cherry cobbler ice cream, we set out the next day to try our hands at coming up with our own regionally inspired ice cream flavors. Every blogger there was from a different region and represented a different state. It was our job to come up with a flavor that was both delicious and representative of our state – and the bonus is that one of our final flavors will be turned into the next limited edition flavor from Private Selection (stay tuned for voting information, which will be available in the next few weeks!).
After catching up on our social media in the morning – yes, this sort of thing is pretty standard for any event with a lot of bloggers – we headed in to the Great Lakes Culinary Institute to start work in the kitchen on our flavors.
We were able to use either vanilla or chocolate ice cream as our base flavors and any flavor was fair game after that. I’m a California native and wanted to use some ingredients that are produced almost exclusively in California. Although I tested out a couple of different flavor combinations, I settled on California Apricot with Dulce de Leche Swirl and Toasted Walnuts. California is by far the largest producer of apricots in the country and I have many friends with apricot trees in their yards. It is also the largest producer of walnuts. The dulce de leche was added because I like ice cream to have a little swirl in it sometimes – and it also goes extremely well both with the apricots and the buttery walnuts. The combination is delicious.
After we worked for a few hours, we had to give the ice cream flavors a taste test. Many people, including myself, created multiple ice cream flavors so that we could narrow it down to our favorites. I’m not going to reveal the other flavors until the contest to vote for the next new flavor is launched, but I can tell you that there were some amazing flavors! I can also say that I don’t think I’ve ever tasted so many ice creams in a single sitting before.
Participating in the creation of an ice cream flavor for the national market, outside of my own kitchen, was a tremendous amount of fun. Naturally, I am biased towards my own California-inspired flavor, but everyone put out some delicious creations that are sure to be popular if they make it to store shelves. Keep your eyes open for news about the ice cream voting, which will be open towards the end of the month so you can vote for the most delicious-sounding flavor or your favorite blogger’s creation and help pick out the next great state ice cream flavor.