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Thu May 6, 2010
Frozen Cultural Assets
By Ian McNulty
New Orleans, LA –
Picking out an ice cream cone these days is rarely as simple as choosing between chocolate and vanilla. Increasingly, a gander at the available flavors from New Orleans parlors can seem like a spin through the farmers market. People making ice cream, including Italian-style gelato and sorbetto, are tuning in to the resurgent interest in local ingredients, items that have a direct connection to our environs and a short and clear supply chain from producer to consumer. Milk from local dairies obviously gets a lot of play, but so too does sugar grown in Louisiana cane fields, berries, pears and satsumas harvested from local farms, pecans from our orchards and even honey collected from Bayou State hives.
One ice cream producer, however, is following a different path to the local palate, and it's also betting that its approach will resonate far from the Crescent City.
The New Orleans Ice Cream Co. churns out packaged pints and tubs of ice cream, primarily intended for the grocery store market and for restaurant dessert lists. The company was a post-Katrina concept, and with its name and its fleur de lis-inspired logo the product made an unambiguous statement about where it calls home. In developing flavors, however, the local entrepreneurs behind the new ice cream brand took things a bit further. Their ice cream recipes do draw heavily from local suppliers, but the specific varieties they make speak more to New Orleans food associations and cooking customs than to the tangible yield of local fields and farmers.
Exhibit A would be nectar soda ice cream. Its color is beauty parlor-pink. It tastes like there's a bubbling trickle of carbonation running through it. And, for nostalgic New Orleanians of a certain age, a few dense dollops of this ice cream may just channel memories from the glory days of the K&B soda fountain, where the original nectar soda beverage was once such a hit.
More ice cream inspiration sprang from the dessert menus of the city's Creole restaurants, leading to flavors like bananas Foster, white chocolate bread pudding and cherries jubilee, that classic French dessert revisited here with brandy-soaked cherries embedded in cherry ice cream. Coffee ice cream is common enough, but this New Orleans Ice Cream version is finished with chicory, just like a good cup of caf au lait.
This is ice cream with New Orleans attitude - products that pack a strong sense of local identity, a cultural pedigree of something that could only come from New Orleans. That explains the popular oddity that is Creole cream cheese ice cream, a flavor like sour vanilla that is practically unknown outside the New Orleans area but a longtime staple of local kitchens.
New Orleans Ice Cream Co. started with its founders peddling their pints to local grocers in person, one store at a time. Now, a new distribution deal is poised to take the company into other markets around the South, which raises the question of how nectar soda and Creole cream cheese ice creams will play in a wider marketplace. Closer to home, though, the company keeps developing new flavors, and says more varieties are in the works based on Creole desserts and even New Orleans breakfast dishes. It just shows that when you look for inspiration from such a richly developed food culture as ours, you can always count on getting a fresh scoop.