Food & Drink

Ice cream convention scoops up samples so cool they're hot

Mixing in ingredients during the ice cream challenge at the National Ice Cream Retailers Association convention were June Weiner, left, David Ford, Frank O'Brien and Brayden Hughes. The convention is in Lexington but, alas, it isn't open to the public. New ideas might arrive in a nearby store soon.
Mixing in ingredients during the ice cream challenge at the National Ice Cream Retailers Association convention were June Weiner, left, David Ford, Frank O'Brien and Brayden Hughes. The convention is in Lexington but, alas, it isn't open to the public. New ideas might arrive in a nearby store soon. Herald-Leader

Only at an ice cream convention could someone wear a "fastest scoop in the West" shirt without a trace of irony.

The National Ice Cream Retailers Association annual meeting is in Lexington this week, and the scoops are fast and furious, hard at work on next summer's dream flavors and irresistible desserts to reduce the most jaded palate to kid-like moans of glee.

On Wednesday, the association was holding its second annual "Iron Scoop" competition, with two teams throwing down their best flavors.

Both teams had to use a special secret ingredient, and what could be more appropriate in Kentucky than bourbon? Actually, this year there were two secret ingredients — they also had to work in ginger snaps.

The red team whipped up a vanilla with a whole pint of Maker's Mark, among other things, for "My Old Kentucky Home Chip."

Blue team went chocolate, again with a healthy dose of Maker's Mark, for "Kentucky Ginger Bourbon Indulgence."

The finished products will be sampled Thursday during the convention's tasting clinic, with a winner announced at the end of the week.

Although this is ice cream, the clinic is serious business, with dozens of vanillas and chocolates being judged by a professor of dairy science.

Blue ribbons will go to the best exemplars at the awards banquet later this week, and one flavor will be crowned "best new flavor." One entrant this year is a pepper flavor.

Last year's winner was "This $&@! Just Got Serious," a smooth salted caramel with chocolate sea salt fudge and salted cashews from the Chocolate Shoppe of Madison, Wis.

About 350 retailers attend the annual meeting to scope out everything from potential toppings — such as green gummy Army men — to exotic tasting ice creams such as African violet, French pink Champagne and Quetzalcoatl's Elixir, a chocolate with a zing of sriracha. These flavors all come from Jaindl-Gerenser of New Hope, Pa.

The only fly in this vat of hot fudge joy: the convention isn't open to the public.

But ice cream lovers will reap the rewards eventually, when the retailers take the ideas back home.

One of the biggest tastes is salted caramel, said Carl Chaney, president-elect of NICRA and owner of Chaney's Dairy Barn in Bowling Green.

Another big trend, and one he's all about, is the use of local food. His ice cream store, started 10 years ago as a way to keep his family dairy farm going, is now a big tourist attraction in Western Kentucky.

"People know the ice cream is made right there," Chaney said.

His philosophy: "Ice cream is fun."

Every year, he picks up great ideas at the convention from other ice cream stores. One idea he wants to try: "A garbage can," Chaney said.

"A garbage can sundae. You have something for the eyes, some for the tongue," he said. "The kids love it."

One store sold 13,000 of them last year, said Debra Chaney, his wife.

There's not much hot competition among ice cream sellers, they said. They are all mom-and-pops, trying to find something that will sell a little more ice cream.

Neil McWilliams of Spring Dipper in Mammoth Spring, Ark., said he does a brisk business in flavors named for the high school teams.

His "Bear Tracks" incorporates a chocolate covered pretzel that looks like, um, bear poo.

"It's a big seller," he said.

And it isn't true that there's nothing new in ice cream.

"Flavors follow food trends," said Lynda Utterback, NICRA executive director. "A few years ago, we had a lot of chefs get into ice cream. And they made some unusual flavors. Like salad dressing."

Still, the biggest seller, by far, of any flavor is vanilla, she said, because it's the base for so many flavors with add-ins. Next, chocolate. Third used to be strawberry. "Now it's butter pecan," she said.

But one of Chaney's biggest hits this summer had nothing to do with flavor.

Several years ago, he heard about a shop that showed movies on the outside wall. So he brought that back to Bowling Green.

"We call it 'Ice cream and a movie,'" Chaney said. "This year, we had over 1,200 people for a movie. They came and sat on blankets in the grass and watched Frozen on the side of the barn."

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