THE FRENCH and Italians love to argue over whether what we now call ice cream began as glace or as gelato. But, at least according to Jeri Quinzio’s excellent book Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making, the big bang in the evolution of this frozen dessert happened in 1558 when an Italian scientist named Giambattista della Porta published a rudimentary recipe for sorbet that involved pouring wine into a flask, surrounding it with ice, and rotating it until the wine turned slushy. The result quickly became a party trick for the wealthy.
So let’s call Italians the inventors and the French, early adopters. But it was Americans who figured out how to create ice cream for the masses.
The first known European recipes were pretty basic: little more than solid blocks of frozen cream thickened by eggs and sweetened with sugar. Then came salt to lower the freezing temperature of the ice. Presto: a softer texture. But because ice was a rare commodity, ice cream remained largely the province of the elite. The process of bringing it to the people began when a Bostonian named Frederic Tudor invented a better insulation technique and pioneered the use of a horse-drawn ice plow. A hop, skip, and a curl later: Dairy Queen.
Lucky for us. Today, whether extruded from a machine or carefully handmade, ice cream remains gastronomy’s alchemy: with time and coolness, cream, sugar, and eggs become sublime. Not surprisingly, Portland chefs and entrepreneurs are stirring and turning their own versions of this creamy gold. What follows is a sampler of six Portland parlors you shouldn’t miss.
THE HAPPY ENDING
After the closure of their revered Lovely Hula Hands, Sarah and Jane Minnick invented a restaurant devoted to the ultimate two-fer: pizza and ice cream. The pizza is good, but the real pleasure is chef Jimmy Albee’s house-made ice cream. Try the salted caramel, the vanilla spiked with bourbon, or the signature garden-fresh mint stracciatella (see right).
FOOD CART COOL
After selling his bacon maple and Stumptown coffee ice creams at farmers markets and street fairs, Chad Draizin is expanding with a mobile food cart and selling his gourmet scoops at establishments like Living Room Theaters and Whole Foods. This expertly crafted American-style ice cream is available in flavors like Tahitian vanilla, whiskey, and the unforgettable caramel apple, crafted from an apple-juice reduction.
Original French recipes calling for as many as 18 yolks per pint of cream have been toned down by years of experimentation (and cholesterol concerns). But a francophilic pastry master like Lauren Fortgang of Paley’s Place winks at tradition with an egg-rich rendition of vanilla that accompanies Paley’s signature chocolate soufflé. So, too, with Fortgang’s ice cream sampler—a trio of daily selections that may include fresh strawberry, caramel, or a kirsch-spiked vanilla swirled with amarena-cherry syrup and studded with brownie pieces.
Like French glace, Italian gelato also calls for eggs, but usually contains two-thirds less cream and is frozen at a slightly warmer temperature, making it both lighter and more intensely flavored than ice cream. At this six-year-old gelateria, fresh, daily made favorites include classic flavors like hazelnut, pistachio, and the heart-stoppingly rich yellow cake—which is nothing more than egg-laden cake batter frozen into a gelato.
THE MAD SCIENTIST
Channeling renowned chefs like Ferran Adrià (El Bulli) and Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck), Castagna chef Matt Lightner brings Portland the next innovation in the 450-year ice cream tradition: the Pacojet, a $3,950 Swiss-made, Mr. Coffee-size ice cream machine. Filling its metal beaker with fresh ricotta, milk, and sugar, or with cooked beets, water, sugar, and grapefruit, Lightner shows why he’s been a James Beard Award finalist with his four-star-worthy fresh-cheese ice creams and beet sorbets, each with a taste that justifies the capital investment.
Cool Moon Ice Cream
Located on kid-friendly Jamison Square, Cool Moon is Portland’s top destination for American-style ice cream. Owner Eva Bernhard’s reverence for what’s local and seasonal perfectly blends the ice cream of your childhood with the craft and quality ingredients that have put Portland on the global gastronomical map. Basics like vanilla and chocolate are top sellers, but they’re also the building blocks for the greatness of her coffee crackle, a coffee ice cream graveled with semisweet pebbles of Belgian chocolate. Cool Moon’s Kulfi—an Indian-style cardamom, rose water, and pistachio ice cream—is one of the most striking scoops around.