Update, 6/23: Sun-Popped Corn ice cream will be back in scoops and pints this Friday, June 24. In honor of this summery, truly popped-by-corn flavor, we’re revisiting our interview with the folks behind BjornQorn, who supply us with this awesome popcorn.
Originally published 6/5/2016
We care a lot about what ingredients we use in our ice creams. But we never really thought too much about popcorn until we devoured a few bags of BjornQorn (pronounced “B’yorn Corn”).
Last winter, we tried and fell in love with this popcorn like no other, and then started in on making Sun-Popped Corn ice cream—the limited-edition flavor with a name inspired by BjornQorn’s eco-friendly method of popping yellow, non-gmo corn.
Popped since 2012 by longtime friends Bjorn Quenemoen and Jamie O’Shea, BjornQorn has a great flavor, thanks to some savory seasoning: a bit of salt and nutritional yeast, which is nutty tasting like mild Parmesan cheese.
But what really makes it stand apart from any other bagged popcorn we’ve had is it’s crispy texture—the result of the solar popping method Bjorn and Jamie use in New York’s Hudson Valley (near where they attended Bard College).
Bjorn and Jamie, 34-year-olds who split their time between Brooklyn and their Hudson Valley cooking site, use mirror-lined solar Caloris Basins, which Jamie designed. The basins reflect direct, concentrated sunlight toward kettles filled with safflower oil and popcorn that track with the sun. The basins are 20 feet wide and produce 5,000 watts of free cooking energy.
During a recent popping session, Bjorn (above, right) talked by phone about BjornQorn:
BJORN’S BACKGROUND: I grew up on a farm in southwestern Minnesota about three hours from the Twin Cities, very much a Lake Wobegon-type of place. We’re Norwegian immigrants from 100 years ago. Popcorn has been so important to me because I have wanted to connect back and re-imagine the farm that I grew up on.
BJORNQORN POPCORN: We use a combination of yellow, organic, non-gmo popcorn from Nebraska and a similar variety grown by my father in Minnesota.
BJORNQORN SEASONING: I grew up putting nutritional yeast and salt on popcorn, but I got to really experiment with the flavor when I ran a pop-up restaurant in college. Every Thursday night we would play calypso music and people would come religiously to buy popcorn. It was clear that I had something with this popcorn.
PARTNERS IN BJORNQORN: Jamie is a solar designer and an artist and inventor. I always wanted to have a popcorn business. Jamie had been working with solar thermal cookers and realized that one of the best uses for them was cooking food. Popcorn is really good because you can pop a lot really fast.
THE SOLAR PROCESS: We use kettles like any normal popcorn company, but ours are custom-made and designed by Jamie to track along (with the sun). In the morning, we’re popping on the west side of a basin, and in the afternoon we’re popping on the east. (Update 7/24/17: The Bjorn team has since phased out their solar thermal facility and are popping using solar electric technology. The solar thermal facility is now used solely for R&D.)
THE ROUTINE: We’re just a two-man operation, so we do everything. We can make about 500 to 1,000 bags on any given day. Each batch lasts between four and five minutes. Jamie mans the kettles and I am inside our little facility just sifting out the stuff that didn’t pop, and bagging and seasoning. We just do that all day.
HERE COMES THE SUN: We’re always tracking the weather 10 days out. It can be very frustrating. The weather people can be convinced that it’s going to be a sunny day in the morning and it might not happen. It’s a lot like farming, but most of the time we want the opposite of what the farmers want. They want the rain to come. We always want the sun to stay out.