DIY ice cream for $26.58 a pint

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Any ice cream that costs $26.58 a pint had better be good enough to trigger a religious trance or sexual ecstasy. Perhaps both.

Ecreamery.com makes no claim to induce either, but I feel it's implicit in the price. Welcome to DIY ice cream, Internet style.

The concept is simple: log on to Ecreamery's site and use the idiot-proof interface to design your own gourmet ice cream. Got a hankering for cucumber dill gelato? Ecreamery can do that. Or mint ice cream with black sesame seeds and Pop Rocks? It can do that, too.

Launched in 2004, the site already has received plenty of attention from the food world. But let's face it, it's a novelty thing. Even if it does deliver religious spasms, people jonesing for Chunky Monkey are headed for a Quickstop, not a hot spot.

Still, I was curious (and I'm guessing this is where most of Ecreamery's business comes from). For that much cash, how good is it? And would it give me what all ice cream addicts spend their lives in search of -- that perfect pint.

This, of course, prompted an argument with my wife. I'm a vanilla guy, something she considers pedestrian and inappropriate for a food writer. She thinks I should favor something more exotic. Or as she puts it, something with flavor.

But I say vanilla is underappreciated. Anyone can mix crushed cookies and chocolate covered cherries into pistachio ice cream and go "Wow!" It takes true ice cream artistry to blend sugar and cream until it is silky and luxurious in the mouth.

To craft your own ice cream, you begin by selecting from three base mixes, each with different amounts of milk fat: 8 percent (considered gelato), 12 percent (the American ice cream standard) and 14 percent (super premium). No brainer; I went super premium.

Next, you select the ice cream flavors. Here, you have 99 choices and can select just one or blend two. When saffron, pumpkin pie, cotton candy, rose, clove and something called ube (described as a purple yam from the Philippines) are on offer, it's easy to feel overwhelmed.

Considering the options, I began to see my wife's point. It would be interesting to know what corn/hot pepper ice cream tastes like. But then I came back to price. For that much, I don't want to experiment with wackjob combinations. I went with a blend of French vanilla and cream.

Now the toppings. Again, 99 options (covering every imaginable type of chocolate to basil, Parmesan cheese, dill and tons of candies) and you can blend up to two. Not wanting to adulterate my vanilla too much, I went with cheesecake and glazed doughnut chunks.

Now the painful part. You can order your creation as a gallon (four quarts) or half a gallon (four pints). I went with the latter. Total: $106.33.

The ice cream is shipped second-day air on dry ice, though it takes seven to 10 days to arrive because of the time involved in making it. My batch arrived five days after ordering and was perfectly frozen. In fact it was so cold, I put it in my freezer to warm up so it would be edible.

And it was good. Rich, creamy and very satisfying. Worth seven times the cost of your typical pint? The Platonic form of vanilla ice cream? No. As for my wife? She didn't like the cheesecake, but loved the doughnuts. She thought the vanilla was fine, as vanilla goes.

Would I do it again? Are you crazy? For that price? Here's the thing. Ecreamery makes very good ice cream. But it's not so much better than premium brands at the grocer that I could justify the price difference. As I said, it's a cool novelty thing.

Nothing religious. Nothing sexual.


asap columnist J.M. Hirsch covers food, diet and nutrition for the AP. E-mail him at jhirschap.org.


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