Brady O'Brien

Taste testers chose Old Fashioned Lemon Pie as Crystal Creamery's limited edition summer ice cream. The team also chose Cherry Lollypop sherbet.

Adventures in Tasting: Crystal's summer ice cream flavors

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2013 - 8:26 am

Blame me if you don't like the lemon custard ice cream.

But you will. It's rich, buttery but bright, with just the right citrus notes. Little graham cracker crumbs add some crunch and give it a name: Old-Fashioned Lemon Pie ice cream.

That's one of two just-for- summer flavors released this week by Crystal Creamery. Also debuting is a throwback flavor, Cherry Lollypop sherbet. It's a reminder of sweltering days with a red Popsicle, only with more sweet cherry taste and fewer drips.

In the Sacramento area, Nugget supermarkets will carry the first shipments.

These two new flavors won out over dozens of other possibilities. I know; I served on the panel of four taste testers that made the final cut.

With scores of tiny plastic tasting spoons, we nibbled on an assortment of offbeat ice creams. Some tasted like familiar candy bars (butterscotch, toffee, loads of chocolate) or favorite cookies (think chips, mint and chewy dough).

Other flavors defied guesswork at their unusual combinations. For example, one sherbet featured prickly pear, blood orange and marula juice.

It's enough to cause brain freeze. But introducing new flavors is part of the ice cream maker's job.

At its Modesto plant, Crystal Creamery makes about 4.2 million gallons a year, said ice cream manager Eddie Scoto.

"We co-pack about 150 to 170 flavors (under different brand names)," Scoto said. "It used to be vanilla and chocolate, but now everybody wants something different."

Regardless of flavor, the ice cream itself ranges from nonfat "light" to ultra-rich 15 percent butterfat. Plus there are nondairy ice cream alternatives such as soy sorbet and no-sugar-added frozen treats.

"The more butterfat, the creamier the product," Scoto explained. "Obviously, it tastes better and has a better mouthfeel."

Scoto has been making ice cream by the ton for 24 years. "My kids and friends think I have the best job in the world," he said. "I'm the ice cream man."

He's tasted hundreds of flavors, looking for just the right combinations. (His personal favorite: dulce de leche – vanilla laced with caramel.)

"Most people's favorite is still vanilla," Scoto added. "To make any flavor you want, you still need to start with a good vanilla mix."

Ice cream flavors follow other food trends. What's hot in the freezer case likely mirrors the same "new" flavors in the bakery aisle (such as red velvet cake) and on fast-food menus (fresh fruit smoothies or frothy coffee drinks).

Crystal works with a number of "flavor houses," companies that come up with the right combination of ingredients to create certain tastes. The flavor search and selection process takes many months, if not years.

"Ice cream consumption has been flat," said Crystal Creamery President Frank Otis. "You've got to have something to mix it up. The industry is always looking for something to bring pizazz back into the category, like Greek yogurt did for its business."

But don't expect bacon ice cream.

"It has to fit with our (flavor) portfolio," marketing director Britta Foster said. "It has to be unique, different, yet lighter and summery to fit with this season."

Crystal releases limited- edition flavors, keyed to the season. Peppermint Blizzard ice cream spices up the holidays. Monday Nut Football (with little chocolate footballs) is a fall favorite.

For summer, it was up to taste testers in January to pick a winner or two.

To accent their flavor, the ice cream candidates were served slightly melted. (Straight out of the freezer at 20 degrees, ice cream is too cold to reveal its full taste.)

Like wine judges, we pondered not only taste, but appearance, scent and mouthfeel. Each candidate received a score with the consensus leading to Old-Fashioned Lemon Pie and Cherry Lollipop as overwhelming winners.

Both had clean, direct and pleasant flavors that were also light, refreshing and definitively summer.

As limited editions, Lemon Pie and Cherry Lollypop will have their summer days, then likely disappear again. But some flavors will never go away – at least not at Crystal.

Said Otis, "I'm a traditionalist. I like chocolate chip and rocky road."

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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