Gleaming freezers hum in the glass-partitioned kitchen at the back of the new MilkMade Tasting Room (204 Sackett Street, Brooklyn; 347-422-0879). This is the first brick-and-mortar location of Diana Hardeman’s popular ice cream delivery service, which hands off two pints of crafted frozen treats every month, directly to New Yorkers’ doors.
With her bubbly, bright smile, Hardeman is almost too perfectly cast in her role as “‘scream” maker. During a Voice visit to the store a few days before opening, people were already popping their heads in the door hopefully, no doubt lured by the promise of frozen strawberry shortcake or pretzel peanut butter.
The new kitchen is something of a game-changer. Previously, MilkMade was operated out of a commissary kitchen in Long Island City, and more recently, as part of a kitchen share with Melt Bakery.
Not the Tasting Room’s ice cream counter can offer samples fresh out of the freezer, no subscription necessary. “It was wonderful serendipity — a great chance to grow our business and share our ice cream with more people,” Hardeman says.
“I only began making ice cream for the first time when Häagen-Dazs shrunk its pint size but kept the price the same,” she recalls. “I was so mad! I started looking for more local ice creams, and more interesting flavors — this is back in 2009 — so it was pretty different then. And I just thought: Why don’t I make my own? So I bought a $50 Cuisinart machine, took it back to my apartment in the East Village, and that was that.”
Hardeman’s personal passion project soon spread beyond the confines of her kitchen. “I fell in love with experimenting and trying new flavors, going to the farmers’ market and getting inspired. Ice cream is just such a great canvas,” she explains. “I was making so much ice cream, I had to give it to my friends.”
It took one Williamsburg party to change everything, after a fellow guest wrote about Hardeman’s ice cream in the New Yorker. “I put up a link just seeing if anyone would sign up for a monthly subscription, and by the end of the week, over 1,000 people were on the waitlist.” Just like that, she found herself making ice cream (she limited the list to 50 people), eventually delivering it all around the neighborhood on her bike.
Now, Hardeman is the proud owner of a fifteen-gallon pasteurizer. “The law in New York is that you have to pasteurize everything, so we’re certified for that. We heat the ingredients to 160 degrees and keep them there for 30 minutes. That’s how we make the base. It gets chilled in that giant tank, then it goes into the fridge to infuse overnight.”
Many “homemade” ice creams, it turns out, are built on a premade, pasteurized base. “We could do that. There’s nothing really wrong with that,” Hardeman says. “But I don’t want to add to things, I want to create new things.
“I went to business school, and I always had entrepreneurial plans,” she goes on. “I worked in healthcare, then I worked in solar energy, but all the time I was going home and having a bowl of ice cream, just like when I was a kid and would sneak a bowl after school. Looking back it seems obvious, but I didn’t see ice cream’s potential as a business for me.”
Hardeman is equally adept at another aspect of the business: networking and social media. She has more than 1.5 million followers on Tumblr. “While I’m packing pints, I’m trying to take photos on my DSLR. We try to post every day and respond to people. It’s important to share the process. The visual is huge, I think. But the ice cream makes it easy. I mean, seriously. Ice cream always looks delicious!”
If you’re wondering, the list has reopened in New York City (and soon, nationally). Two pints of ice cream cost $30, one of each Flavor of the Month, which in the past have included delights like cinnamon buttered toast, double-cream Brie with cabernet caramel, rose with Mast Brothers milk chocolate swirl, and plum crumble. “We’ve done 130 flavors so far, and we’ve never repeated,” notes Diana. “That’s the really fun creative part for me. I’m always trying and experimenting and testing out new ideas.”