Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
The other day my five-year old, Kyla wanted to make Daddy ice cream (The fake variety, not the real kind). So Kyla asked Mommy what Daddy would like.
Childhood days came to mind when a regular ritual had Mom, Dad, and I hopping into Dad’s Buick and heading over to Baskin-Robbins. This time of year, 31 Flavors as it was also called featured a limited edition flavor…
That would be your Baseball Nut; vanilla ice cream with black raspberry ribbons and cashews. Yum!
I loved their Rum Raisin, but that wasn’t always available. This selection was always on hand…
Jamocha Almond Fudge. My favorite. I’d usually get a double scoop, Jamocha Almond Fudge and something else.
Ice cream. It’s a beautiful thing.
Author Don Kardong once wrote, “Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.” Obviously Kardong takes his scoops rather seriously.
The fact is one of the great American treats has fallen on harder times in recent years. With folks eating healthier and the popularity of frozen yogurt on the rise, revenue at ice cream store franchises dropped by 4 percent to $3.2 billion from 2008-13. Those same reports, however, show manufacturers are adapting by shifting their focus to develop health-conscious and premium products that will boost demand and revenue. The prices of key inputs like milk and sugar will continue to threaten profit, but will be far less volatile than in previous years.
A rebound is on the way, but where?
"In some markets, such as urban markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc., independents are definitely outgrowing the chains because consumers value that unique independent feel now, and it's a similar reason to why people value local ingredients," said Andy Brennan, a market analyst for IBISWorld. "They want some transparency to what they're eating, and you can't really achieve that with a generic chain brand. So independents and very small chains are doing very well in the urban markets."
That would be terrific news for places like Purple Door in the Walker's Point area of Milwaukee. And this store in New York City...
So where pray tell is the no-no?
Let’s return to my Baskin-Robbins days as a kid. It wasn’t always an easy decision. There were choices galore from end of the shop to the other, over thirty, though I never bothered to count. I merely believed the outdoor sign.
The sight behind the counter was wonderful, a myriad of colors and multi-worded flavors. I’m sure the big three, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry were offered, but my recollection is they were never placed in the same showcase as the other 31 on the monthly flavor list. I’m guessing if you wanted vanilla the less than thrilled guy in the white outfit and black tie had to go outside of view, probably to some mysterious freezer in another room to haul out the vanilla that 1 out of every 673 customers ordered.
Never once did I order vanilla at Baskin-Robbins or the local sweet shop, or anywhere. Maybe I was scarred by the 4th of July free stuff where you either got vanilla or vanilla. The first time I had Rocky Road it was nirvana.
On Saturday the Fischer family headed over to Kopp’s for a once a year possibility in honor of German Fest, Bienenstichkuchen: Almond Custard + Honey + Almond Slices + Sponge Cake + Bavarian Crème.
Are you kiddin’ me?
The other flavor option was BANANA WALNUT CHOCOLATE CHUNK. And yet I saw customer after customer walking away with or chomping down on vanilla. One gentleman had what appeared to be a triple scoop in waffle cone. That’s three times the vanilla of a basic order.
Vanilla. In other words…
So let’s see what some other folks have said about vanilla.
“Who buys plain vanilla ice cream from Ben & Jerry's, anyway? Is there a greater waste?”
“Vanilla has become too genericized. It’s become standard, which is good. Vanilla is a household name. But the same standardization that’s made it so popular has taken the novelty out of it. Being the vanguard of ice cream has vanquished its radical sensation.”
Benson Bruno from “A Story that Talks About Talking is Like Chatter to Chattering Teeth, and Every Set of Dentures can Attest to the Fact that No . . .”
I think most ice cream manufacturers get it. But like many in the food business, they can get too creative.
The aforementioned Chinatown Ice Cream Factory in New York has taro and black sesame flavors. The business makes a living “coalescing American’s most popular dessert with an exotic Chinese twist.” But even so…
OK. Forget Chinatown. It's a store with a niche so some of their flavors are to expected.
Consider OddFellows Ice Cream in Brooklyn that has tobacco with huckleberries and smoked chilis, cornbread, and blueberry buttermilk honey flavors and has offered specials like caramelized onion with raisin caramel and walnuts, foie gras, beet, goat cheese and candied pistachio.
Or down south in Austin, TX, Amy's Ice Creams offers pineapple coconut jalapeno.
Look, it's OK to stray from vanilla. In fact, it's obligatory.
CULINARY NO-NO BONUSES
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