Doug Quint road tests the old chocolate mix (left) against the new (right).
When Doug Quint of Big Gay Ice Cream started selling his enhanced soft-serve from a Mister Softee-type truck back in 2009, he was constrained to use a commercial ice cream mix provided by a local manufacturer, which came in liquid form in gallon cartons. Nevertheless, he produced a crowd-pleasing product by drizzling cones with wild premium ingredients like olive oil and sea salt, toasted curry coconut, and blueberries and saba. “When it comes to the quality level of those manufactured products,” Quint said, referring to the usual commercial soft-serve mixes, “if you buy the highest quality, it’s actually quite good.” And Big Gay Ice Cream proved it.
Quint meets the cows at Ronnybrook.
But in the natural order of things, it was inevitable that Quint would some day want to make his own soft-serve mixes, and that day has arrived. Not long ago he contacted John LeSauvage, an ice cream scientist currently working with Ronnybrook Farm in Ancramdale, New York, manufacturer of milk products partly distributed through the city’s Greenmarkets. This Hudson Valley dairy has been around for 70 years, and fields a herd of 300 head that graze on grass. Quint and his partner Bryan Petroff drove up to Ronnybrook Farm and were impressed. “I don’t know what kinds of cows they were, but they were beautiful,” he said, beaming, “and there were 4-H groups running around, it was all so wholesome.” For the record, the cows are Holsteins.
Working with Ronnybrook, he created a premium ice cream mix that would be proprietary to Big Gay Ice Cream. There will be both chocolate and vanilla mixes, as well as a neutral mix that can be used to create flavors. Experimentation is a perpetual process at the well-oufitted basement lab in the West Village location, where I spoke with Quint – who was in his mad-scientist mode – recently. “I wish I understood all the chemistry better,” Quint laments. “Ginger is particularly hard to work with, if you get it strong enough, it curdles the ice cream.” I asked about the little greasy flecks you sometimes find in soft serve. “That’s the butterfat coming out of the mix,” he said, shaking his head.
Sourcing the vanilla flavor for the new mix proved difficult. “We tried all sorts of vanilla flavors. Some tasted too much like bourbon. Others were too weak or we couldn’t obtain them in large enough quantities.” How large is large? “Well, we’ve often gone through gallons upon gallons of vanilla mix on a busy night at our East Village store, and that means a substantial quantity of vanilla flavoring.”
I had a chance to try the new vanilla and chocolate and compare them with the old mixes. The experiment was conducted on a pair of identical ice cream machines. The old was certainly grainier, and the new one smoother, with a mouth feel something like Wisconsin-style frozen custard. The new vanilla tasted more like vanilla than the old one. “I think there might be too much vanilla in the new one,” Quint noted. I disagreed with him. The chocolate quality was better on the new chocolate than on the old chocolate.
The new mixes will be unveiled at both the East and West Village stores this Friday. There will be chocolate and vanilla, of course. New flavors for this week will be cardamom and coffee – a flavor obtained via a special blend from Manhattan’s Roasting Plant. “Is there enough caffeine in there to give you a jolt,” I wondered aloud, taking a lick of the coffee. “No,” he replied – a bit sadly I thought.
Big Gay Ice Cream
125 East 7th Street
Big Gay Ice Cream
61 Grove Street
Old vanilla (left) vs. new (right)
Cardamom ice cream made with the new mix, which contains whole milk and cane sugar.
Big Gay unicorn in the foreground with Bea Arthur cameo, Seventh Avenue South through the window of the West Village location
The cows in their little houses at Ronnybrook
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