What does summer taste like? To us, it’s juicy, sweet-tart strawberries just picked from Ohio fields and then mixed with tangy cream. In one bite, summer is our Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk ice cream. And even though we’re still in the midst of spring, our perennial favorite—exploding with the most intense, lightly tart strawberry flavor—is now available by the scoop in shops nationwide (look for pints next month).
We know what you’re thinking: How in the heck is that possible? The answer is simple, but the implications are huge. Every year, we buy strawberries—tiny, gem-like berries with flavor for days—from Mike Hirsch, a fourth-generation Ohio farmer we’ve been partnering with for more than a decade. And for the last six years, Mike has been growing thousands of pounds of strawberries just for us (this year, we’ll buy 17,000 pounds worth, weather permitting). His strawberries are picked at the peak of ripeness, and then stemmed, cleaned, and frozen offsite by one of our partners. Then we squirrel away these perfect, frozen berries until we’re ready to make fresh batches of Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk ice cream.
We love that we can do this. We love that we can say to Mike: “Plant a whole field of strawberries and we’ll buy them.” We love that we can partner with entrepreneurial farmers with beautiful land, and lots of it, and that we can grow our businesses together. And make this amazing ice cream in the process.
Our strawberry ice cream is different than others. Often ice cream makers will leave pieces of strawberries in the ice cream which freeze into flavorless ice chunks. We don’t. We roast the berries to further concentrate their flavor and then pulverize them completely assuring that all of the flavor from the berries is infused fully into the cream.
Each process and ingredient plays an important role. A little buttermilk highlights the strawberry’s natural tartness and adds a lovely cultured backdrop to the flavor. Cream softens and rounds it all out in just the right way.
The real reasons we roast our strawberries
There are two reasons we roast strawberries. The first is that it concentrates their flavor in just the right way. We need the dry heat of an oven. If we just boiled them in a kettle, then they would cook too long and turn jammy, not fresh and bright. The second important reason is for texture. Roasting prevents our strawberry ice cream from turning icy and allows us to use Mike Hirsch’s strawberries instead of buckets of pre-sweetened, ice cream-ready strawberries that many ice cream makers turn to.
The science behind it is like a game of matchmaker. When making ice cream, in order to keep water—be it from fruit or milk or whatever—from turning into ice crystals, every H2O molecule must be partnered with another molecule (like sugar, fat, or protein). This pairing game is why we add tapioca starch to our ice creams, to absorb some of the extra water that is naturally present in milk, cream, yogurt, berries, pumpkins, or whatever fresh ingredients we’re using. It’s the reason that most ice creams, even those that claim to be housemade, are just flavorings or gels added to off-the-shelf mixes and frozen on site. Ice cream making is so complicated and complex that the overwhelming majority of ice cream makers don’t even do it, or know how to in the first place.
Add real fruit to into the equation, as in Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk, and suddenly there’s all this extra natural water that needs to be paired. So we roast strawberries. Some water evaporates, and what doesn’t connects with sugar very intentionally sprinkled overtop. That way, when we add berries to cream, milk, and sugar, we never get flavorless iciness—just full-on, in-your-face strawberry.