Saturday, 11 September 2010

An unsolicited product review

An ironic subject for a post, given my previous rant. Rest assured, the ranting will continue.

A benefit, if you are an inveterate cheapskate, of commuting via a City Loop station in Melbourne is the distribution of free things during peak hour. Last week it was iced coffee flavoured milk - which was, like all flavoured milks, vile and far too sweet.

This week it was tights (mysteriously, many male commuters were lining up to grab a pair, much to the bemusement of the women handing them out), and ice cream.

Yes, c. 4pm near Southern Cross Station, whilst I was on my way to the Vic Market, I spotted a lurid Ben & Jerry’s Kombi van. Looking at the website, I see that this must have something to do with Free Ice Cream Fridays.

Notwithstanding the fact that errands and a significant commute were in between said ice cream and a reliable freezer, I barged in front of some excited, pleonexic schoolboys and grabbed a sub-500mL (i.e. A silly feeble American pint) tub of Strawberry Cheesecake flavour.

Figure 1: Dodgy Screen Capture

It made it home, largely still frozen, for which I suppose I have Melbourne’s stubbornly wintry weather to thank.

I’ve never quite got the hype about B&J. I know people get all funny (not funny ha-ha, funny-deranged) about it, as if ice cream can be anything other than literally cool, and there seems to be some cult of personality surrounding the founders and their “wacky” ways with bits of cookie, corn syrup and emulsifiers.

Which is where the first hurdle arises.

B&J is priced at the gourmet end of the market. It is packaged for the pseudo-hippy-hipster unconventional demographic. With an ingredients list that runs to several lines and seems to depend on emulsifiers and gums to (presumably) stabilise and improve the texture, the products don’t quite mesh with the stated ethos.

It doesn’t help, either, that I don’t have a sweet tooth - at all - and I’ve never much cared for the kid-like cookies/brownies/caramel/choc-chip/marshmallow theme, singly or in combination or in mixtures of other things.

However, ice cream is something I can just about bear because the cold temperature seems to mitigate the cloying effect of the mix, and it doesn’t seem to be quite so teeth-grittingly sweet as a cake/biscuit/chocolate bar. On the other hand, I will acknowledge that I am more keen on gelato, which has a cleaner finish owing to being made from milk and not cream.

[An aside - reading The Fat Duck Cookbook it seems that HB and I have very similar opinions on this matter, as he is also a gelato man, likes “clean” tastes and textures, and isn’t overly fond of excessive sweetness. He suggests adding sour cream to mixtures, to give a bit of acidity, and I will be testing this when the weather heats up. Given how ineffably good the sweet and savoury ice creams were at The Fat Duck, I have utmost trust in him.]

As a B&J neophyte, and with some latent interest in frozen confections, I was prepared to give it a go, and at least I’d be able to say that I had tried it.

Appearance: cream, some suspicion of pink bits here and there, ditto beigey “cake” bits. Not like the picture above, which seems to exaggerate the strawberry component. This was, in fact, barely discernable as mere blush smudges.

Texture: well, the ice cream bits were good. Smooth, but a bit too creamy and claggy in mouthfeel terms for my liking. But I’ve already explained that I’m abnormal in that respect. The cheesecake cake bits were a bit disappointing - not very cakey, and merely represented sweet, gritty interruptions. This is why I don’t like cake/biscuit bits in ice cream - they don’t seem to retain their integrity, and just turn to mush. And then it spoils the whole experience, viz. Cream-cream-cream-mush-mush-sugar-grit-cream.

Flavour: Ah. Well. Yes. I think “UNBELIEVABLY SWEET” sums it up. The strawberry aspect wasn’t very distinct, and neither was the cream cheese element, so it just tasted like slightly contaminated sugar-cream.

It’s officially recorded as having a sugar content of something around the 20% mark. Having tried it, I’m surprised it’s not higher.

Peace, love and ice cream? Peace from a diabetic coma, more like.

Like the product, I also find the ethical claims made by B&J a little hard to swallow, especially those relating to the environment. It’s hardly environmentally friendly to air freight ice cream from the US around the world.

If you want decent ice cream - even merely half decent would be better - there’s plenty of locally made stuff to enjoy, in more interesting flavours. The Maggie Beer Quince and Bitter Almond is pretty damn good, and I am looking forward to trying out Gundowring soon. Plus a rare benefit of warmer weather in Melbourne is that Casa del Gelato reopens for the summer season.

In any case, heavens, buy an el cheapo ice cream maker for around $30 and have some fun yourself. I made killer gelato last year with unpasteurised Jersey milk, and, arch banana hater though I am, I discovered that banana “ice cream” is astonishingly good.

In summary, B&J ice cream highlights that really you have two choices.

  1. Buy something better (and possibly less expensive/less 10-planet-lifestyle); or
  2. Use vastly superior ingredients, and make something yourself for almost no money.


Cindy said...

I did spend my own hard-earned cash on a pint of B&J's cookie dough icecream a couple of months ago. I'll 'fess up to a sweet tooth!

Never again. SO SUGARY. I can kinda see its junky appeal, but not at the high-cost gourmet end of the market.

Just this morning I put my el cheapo icecream maker in the freezer for some churning good times. Wheeeeeee!

Eat to Live said...

Cindy - I'm so glad it's not just me! I was feeling like a weirdo freak.

I'll confess to keeping the chilling bit of my icecream maker in my freezer on a permanent basis, so I can take advantage of reduced-to-clear ready made custard, which (with a bit of limoncello or vodka) doesn't work too badly as an ersatz ice cream base.

I reminded myself this morning how many fab ice cream recipes you have archived on your blog - I foresee a bookmarking binge ahead!

thanh7580 said...

I love gelato too. I couldn't stop eating San Crispino gelato in Rome about four months ago and that was the turning point for me. I now favour gelato over ice cream, although Melbourne gelato doesn't come anywhere close to that in Rome, especially my favourite San Crispino, the gelato in which I will compare all gelatos now.

And, I also just bought HB's Fat Duck book tonight. I love the guy, and finally forked out the massive amount for his book. I love the food porn photos so much and can't wait to get back to Melbourne next week and read all his words.

Eat to Live said...

Sigh - I'm sure proper Roman gelato is out of this world!

If you don't already know about it (for future purchases...) The Book Depository is amazingly cheap. I've bought all my big food-related books from there lately.