When the novelty of grabbing a pint at her local bodega wore off, MilkMade founder Diana Hardeman decided to take matters into her own hands. “It wasn’t natural, it wasn’t local, pints had shrunk, and I was still paying the same for them,” she explains. A modest series of at-home batches for friends and neighbors quickly gained a following, and in December, 2009, Hardeman formed MilkMade, a membership-based pint program that delivers two craft flavors to its patrons each month.
You need to enroll to reap the monthly benefits, but non-members can get their hands on MilkMade tomorrow via Valentine’s Day grams: a duo of pints — salted caramel and red velvet cake — delivered to that special someone with a handwritten note (orders will be taken until 7 p.m. today). Here, we chatted with the head milkmaid about eight degree delivery days, searching for the best locally made bourbon, and flavor naming inspiration — think Red Rum and Brie Mine — for her series of non-repeating combinations (106 and counting).
Starting an ice cream business in the middle of winter? Bravo!
Man, the first delivery was in the first week of December and it was freezing rain — it was kind of comical. Like, oh, I’m starting this ice cream delivery business, and it’s pouring rain, and it’s freezing — what in the world?
How did you decide on the name?
At first I wasn’t sure what to call the business. I had a few names. It’s funny, though — I was having lunch with a friend of mine and his younger brother, and I was telling them about the business, and they said, “Milkmaids — you guys are milkmaids. You’re like the milkman, but you’re delivering ice cream.” It embraces that old school nostalgia of milk delivery. When I was young we used to get milk delivered to my parent’s house. I felt like right then, it just all came together.
How did the delivery process begin, and how has it grown?
At the time, I was working with a friend, and we walked around, we biked — we delivered everything ourselves and by hand. It wasn’t the most efficient way of doing it (when we’re the ones doing it), but it created great relationships with our members — such that I feel like I know them and vice versa. It was a great way to start the business. We still deliver by hand, but it’s not me doing them all — we have a team of girls who go out, and we have a driver who goes out.
Do you ever repeat flavors?
We just finished our 103rd and 104th flavors for the membership. Next month will be 105 and 106, and they never repeat. The only times that we do repeat a flavor are actually for our Valentine’s Day grams — our salted caramel and our red velvet are people’s favorites. They wait until Valentine’s Day for them to come back. Those are limited edition flavors that reappear annually, and we deliver them outside of the membership for anyone who wants them on Valentine’s Day.
So a flavor combination has never reappeared since 2009 (beyond Valentine’s Day)?
I pretty much vowed to never repeat a flavor. Every single recipe is brand new, made from scratch, created from the ground up. It requires a little bit of work each month to create the perfect recipe and search for new ingredients. We always use local mix-ins, so each month it’s deciding, “Oh, let’s put doughnuts in this month,” then, “Who’s the best doughnut maker?” Or, “Where can we find locally made bourbon?” That’s hard work, but it’s definitely worth it for the great flavors — and people love discovering new, local artisans.
How do you constantly drum up new flavor combinations?
It really varies. It goes from, “We love this cold brew coffee, and we want to put it in our ice cream — let’s start with that, and let’s figure out what we can make using that.” It also goes from “Hey, this is a great name for a flavor: ‘Red Rum.’ What can we make that is ‘Red Rum?'” It was a rooibos tea ice cream with rum balls, and it was great — it was one of our October flavors for Halloween. Sometimes I stumble upon something at the green market, and I want to make something fruit-based with it. Or it might be dessert I ate. Four years ago I had never had red velvet cake. I tasted it (and this was pre-red velvet craze) and was like, “Boom, I have to turn this into ice cream.” Another example is this month’s current flavor: “Brie Mine,” which is brie and cabernet caramel swirl. I first thought, “Great name — how can I make this into ice cream?” There’s a lot of experimenting involved.
Since you’re always using new ingredients that perhaps you’ve never worked with before, can the production process be more time consuming?
I always say it’s between one and 10 iterations of a recipe before I get it just right. More often now it’s one or two, thanks to time spent teaching and learning about the chemistry of the ingredients and how ice creams work.
Do you think people are thinking about ice cream in February (and December, and January, and March…)?
We delivered on the coldest day of the year so far. Eight degrees, and we were still delivering ice cream! People were happy. January and February of this month have just been snow, sleet, polar vortex — ice cream definitely is not top of mind in that people are not going out to get a scoop of ice cream at the shop in the dead of the winter. However, when it’s delivered to your door, it’s another story. We’re not fazed by any seasonality. I think people love delicious ice cream all year round, as long as they’re in a cozy place to enjoy it.
What inspires the inventive flavor combinations of MilkMade?
For me, one of the reasons I started MilkMade was that my palate became a little more sophisticated than it had been in the past, and I wanted flavors that were more unique. I wanted honey lavender granola. I wanted something that just wasn’t being offered at the time. When you get creative, there are so many options and opportunities to put together new flavors together that people haven’t had before.
What has been your favorite aspect of this whole process?
The opportunity to delight our members with our ‘scream and with our service. We’ve had members tell us that MilkMade is the best part about living in New York City — which is an incredible honor.