Here in San Francisco, summer means bundling up in jackets and woollies the moment the sun goes down or the fog rolls in. Nevertheless, the locals are lined up at artisanal ice cream shops all over the city, even at 9 p.m. when the mercury may dip below 50º Fahrenheit. If a sunny Sunday should occur, supreme patience is required for your favorite scoop. What’s heating up the ice cream mania that’s sweeping the West Coast?

Artisanal Ice Cream

Waiting for ice cream at Salt & Straw. Photo: Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Artisanal Ice Cream in Portland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco

It’s no surprise, the current ice cream movement is all about crafted by hand, local purveyors, freshness, inventive flavors and small batch or even one scoop at a time. Why limit your taste buds to flavors they’ve tried already?

Salt & Straw: Born in 2011 from a single push cart, this cousin-run Portland, Oregon ice cream maker breaks all the rules. Salt & Straw partners with local chefs, artisans, producers, and farmers to serve unusually creative (crazy?) flavors. Each month, five provocative flavors rotate, inspired by a specific theme or a story S&S wants to tell.

For a rescued food theme, Head Ice Cream Maker Tyler Malek creates flavors based on imperfectly shaped or bruised produce from the farmers market, extra small coffee beans that would normally be tossed by a local roaster, and surplus popcorn from a nearby cinema. On a berries theme, Tyler can tempt you with a whack of heat mixed with sweet in Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero. (This one has a fanatical Portland following.) The brand tells it best: “It starts with Portland Creamery’s ‘Sweet Fire’ goat cheese churned into a tart, creamy chèvre ice cream ribboned with a thick, blazing, so sweet marionberry jam that has been infused with fiery habaneros.”

Artisanal Ice Cream

Tough choices, tongue temptations at Salt & Straw. Photo: Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Scoop shops are in Portland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with Seattle opening late 2017. Every ice cream flavor is handmade in small five to ten gallon batches in local kitchens using only all natural cream from nearby farms and the best local, organic and sustainable ingredients. Classic flavors are joined by seasonal flavor menus that rotate every four weeks and vary from city to city, always drawing on hyperlocal ingredients.

Artisanal Ice Cream in Pasadena and Los Angeles

Not to be outdone by a couple of upstart, startup cousins from the Pacific Northwest, Pasadena has its own nationally acclaimed married couple artisanal ice cream brand. Northern California natives Jessica and Zach are self taught ice cream makers who now teach others in classes at their Pasadena location. They’re all about rich and creamy, garden-inspired flavors sourced at the farmers market.

Carmela’s Ice Cream: Ooh, City of the Angels…Carmela‘s heavenly tasting Dark Chocolate Cacao Nib was ranked number one out of 168 American ice creams taste tasted coast-to-coast by Bon Appétit magazine in 2014. Tell us more…”A decadent blend of dark and bittersweet chocolates, cacao powder and crunchy cacao nibs.” Since setting up in a shared pizza kitchen, Carmela’s has been contributing to the cool factor in Downtown LA. Keep dishing out the bestselling Salted Caramel, and we’ll keep waiting in line for a double (triple?) scoop cone.

Artisanal Ice Cream

Artisanal Ice Cream from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to Long Beach

Sun’s out in Southern California, and that just makes one more excuse for getting a scoop of ice cream, maybe even for breakfast. In fact, people in Long Beach, CA spend five times more on ice cream than your average American, according to Foodbeast.

McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams

Only in California can an artisanal ice cream description read like the write up for a fine wine. Nearly 70 years a classic, McConnell’s (since 1949) knows what they’re talking about when they say, “Dense and pure-flavored, with smooth, consistent texture and a rich, velvety mouth feel.”

A Santa Barbara institution, the McConnell’s story links to other longtime Central Coast California family stories through partnerships for quality ingredients sourced locally. There’s milk from Old Dairy in Paso Robles; chocolate from Guittard, the oldest continuously family-owned chocolate company in the US; and exquisite Madagascar Bourbon and Tongan vanillas sourced from a century-old specialist.

McConnell’s operates four locations only. But if you’re lucky, you’ll find it in a gourmet grocery store nearby. Can’t wait? Get your Whiskey & Pecan Pralines shipped express for $99.99 (ice cream not included!) but not on the weekend.

Artisanal Ice Cream

Artisanal Ice Cream in Seattle

In parts of Seattle, a walk is more like a hike, after which you deserve some very special ice cream. Besides, in Seattle you absolutely must do summery things for as long as summer lasts, right?

Frankie & Jo’s

There’s a brand new brand in town. Hobble up First Hill to Frankie & Jo’s, Seattle’s first non-dairy, plant-based ice cream brand. The shop opened in late 2016 with more than $33,000 in small loans from 178 community lenders.

It’s 100 percent vegan and gluten-free, served in compostable cups, but you must be okay with nuts. How do they do it? With a lot of work. “Each day, they make nut milk out of sprouted nuts and churn that milk into ice cream after infusing it with one of their many unique flavors. Most of their ice creams contain a combination of their silky house-made nut milk and rich coconut milk…”

Artisanal Ice Cream

Community funded, vegan and gluten-free! Salty caramel on top, California Cabin on bottom at Frankie & Jo’s, Seattle. Photo courtesy of @fooddeclassified with permission.

Artisanal Ice Cream in the San Francisco Bay Area (and beyond)

We’re picky, picky foodie people. As Smitten Ice Cream founder Robyn Sue Fisher told Wired, “San Franciscans are such a critical food audience. I figured if we could be seen as quality in their eyes, we could make it work. If I could make it here, then it was a good test of the concept.”

Bi-Rite Creamery Ice Cream

Got some time on your hands? Good, because there’s guaranteed to be a wait for your Bi-Rite Creamery scoop at either of the two San Francisco locations. Chatting with folks as you wait will convince you that salted caramel is the new vanilla. But if you want to get funky, celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love with the artisanal ice cream named for those psychedelic days in the 60s. It features fennel pollen, hemp seed oil and blackberry swirl.

Roasted banana, balsamic strawberry, basil and honey lavender are a few of the other flavors that keep those long lines ever growing. Lines don’t move fast because 1) people procrastinate about their decision and ask for a taste on little wooden spoons; and 2) flavors are always small batch, seasonal, and hand made using Strauss Family Creamery organic milk, the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi.

Artisanal Ice cream

Bi-Rite Creamery. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Three Twins Ice Cream

How do you feel about chocolate, I mean really feel? Because Three Twins Ice Cream has introduced the Organic Triple Chocolate Sundae Cone. It has a chocolate-coated interior, filled with chocolate ice cream and topped off with mini chocolate chips — the ultimate chocolate lover’s treat.

Each year, founding twin Neal Gottlieb produces LGBT-inspired flavors especially for Pride month: Hot Cookie (vanilla with cookies); Pride Vanilla (pink vanilla with beet powder); Maple Stonewall-Nut (maple walnut); Matcha Matcha Man (green tea); Transgender Pride Flag (Madagascar vanilla, cherry, and blueberry), and more catchy names.

Neal says the brand had its beginnings in 2005 in Marin County, north of San Francisco, when he and his brother (and his brother’s wife makes three) set out to produce the deliciously affordable and now utterly accessible organic ice cream that’s sold in 23 flavors in all 50 states.

Artisanal Ice Cream

Life is a cookie ice cream sandwich. Photo courtesy: Three Twins Ice Cream

Smitten Ice Cream

Churning out one scoop at a time, Smitten Ice Cream‘s patented (four patents are involved in each machine!) liquid nitrogen Brrr™ machine is all about the ice crystals. The machines take fresh, unfrozen ingredients and douse them with liquid nitrogen at -321º F. to create an ultra smooth texture. It looks like magic, but it’s actually about science going on inside this patented and trademarked mechanism.

Founder Robyn Sue Fisher became so obsessed with her quest for the best, she attended the Penn State Ice Cream Short Course. Her first “shop” was a Red Flyer wagon pulled through the streets and parks of San Francisco, benefiting from face-to-face customer feedback. It worked. Smitten has built shops around the brilliant Brrr™ in nine locations: San Francisco, Oakland, Walnut Creek, San Jose, and now El Segundo and Silverlake.

Artisanal Ice Cream

Brrr™ is a liquid nitrogen machine that makes ice cream in 90 seconds. Photo by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Gott’s Soft Serve

Location envy, anybody? Arrive early for your ferry and get to Gott’s Roadside takeout window for a creamy treat before the journey. Step inside the landmark Beaux Arts Ferry Building at San Francisco’s waterfront where Gott’s Soft Serve is a blast from the past…only these days it’s made with organic ingredients. Nostalgic treats await, like magic shell chocolate dipped waffle cones filled with a vanilla and chocolate swirl. This is where you ask them to pop on the M&Ms topping.

Artisanal Ice Cream

A soft serve fan opts for bright pink shell and sprinkles. Photo by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

Every Day Should Be Ice Cream Day

As you dive into that soft serve ice cream covered with colorful M&Ms, appreciation is owed to former President Ronald Reagan for elevating the status of both. His legacy from the 1980s included the designation of July as National Ice Cream Month and the tradition of replacing free cigarettes on the Oval Office desk and aboard Air Force One with jars of M&Ms.

Of course, many Americans are of the opinion that every day of every month should be ice cream day. The following juicy tidbits of trivia about our national obsession are courtesy of the International Dairy Foods Association.

Did you know…?

  • Reagan proclaimed National Ice Cream Day as the third Sunday of July.
  • The American ice cream industry contributes $39 billion to the national economy and creates more than 188,000 jobs nationwide.
  • California is the nation’s number one ice cream producer and Long Beach, CA consumes more ice cream per capita than in any other US city.

Ice cream has always been a popular treat, especially in summer, but the current creative artisanal ice cream trend, especially on the West Coast, is one to watch.

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