The Best Store Bought Ice Creams: A Summer Roundup

Lou Gorfain


Here’s the scoop on ice cream. It's not sold by weight, but by size. A pint of cheap ice cream is fluffed up 50 percent with air and tastes less deep, creamy, and rich as an equal volume of a better brand, which is pumped with only enough air to make it smooth.

"That's why the first thing I do when picking an ice cream," explains Guy Chandonnet, the Frozen Foods buyer for Fairway Markets, "Is simply lift the container. If it's got heft, that's a good sign I'm going to like what's inside."

Supermarkets carry up to 4 different grades of ice cream: Super-premium, Premium, Standard, and Economy. Aeration increases as you move down the ladder, butterfat concentration intensifies as you climb up, as do weight, price, calories, and sheer flavor.

Until the Sixties, no groceries carried super-premium. It was only sold in specialty shops, home made and hand packed. But then an enterprising ice cream maven in the Bronx commercialized his family's recipe, labeled it Haagan-Dasz, a meaningless but marketable name, and created a heavy, high end ice cream for the mass market. It took off, inviting competitors, like two guys from Vermont who added mix-ins and called the confections "Ben and Jerry's." Even today these two brands still dominate the SP category.

But in recent years, smaller, more artisanal companies have won space on supermarket freezer shelves, by crafting ice creams made with the freshest of sustainable ingredients, sourced locally, designed to deliver inventive flavor fusions, and marketed as tasting as good as what's offered at a gourmet ice cream shop. 

CTBites recently sampled some of the new super premiums available locally.  We were both surprised and impressed with what we tasted.

So if Haagan-Dasz is no longer cutting it for you, these ice creams may be worth a lick….


Actually, the label is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than "chips", this candy-counter chocolate is broken up in randomly sized chunks that, along with the ice cream itself, melt in your mouth.. No wonder it’s sublime. Both the chocolate and the ice cream were first crafted over a century ago at the Graeter gourmet Ice cream and Candy shop, a Cincinnati institution. The family owned company faithfully follows their ancestors’ recipe and small batch methods: gently churning the ice cream two gallons at a time -- and hand packing it into 1 pint containers that weigh up to a pound (a pint of regular ice cream averages about 8 ounces.) The raspberry ice cream enjoys great mouth appeal: dense and remarkably smooth, its deep purple fruity flavor a sumptuous delivery system for the candy. The BRCC is Graeter's most popular flavor and is fast developing a cult following wherever it has been introduced in limited regions of the country. Recently available at Fairway because one customer fervently recommended it to the company and a taste test convinced them to carry it.


We love coconut ice cream (especially refreshing after Thai food.) What distinguishes Gifford's coconut are the flakes, which are actually toasted in chocolate and generously lace the coconut flavored ice cream   This roasting imparts a deeper and richer taste than found in traditional coconut ice creams, which are lighter, intended to merely refresh the palate, rather than excite it The ice cream is all seasons: a tropical pick me up for summer ... and a comforting hug me up for winter. Crafted in a small town in Maine, Gifford’s is currently only available in the Northeast. Side note, before moving down east, the Giffords were dairy farmers in Connecticut, where they developed the super rich, small town ice creams they still pack into their quart sized containers. Available at Fairway, Balducci’s, Caraluzzi’s, Stew Leonard’s, and IGA stores, like Stewart’s and King’s.


Jeni Britton Bauer uses the word "voluptuous" to describe her ice cream. We'll call it "luxurious." The flavor is luscious, the body and texture lavish, and the price extravagant.  But then Jeni doesn't scrimp on her meticulously sourced ingredients or artisanal procedures. The cream comes from grass grazed milk cows, and it's so laden with butterfat, Jeni can eschew egg yolk to stabilize the ice cream. So if you think Salted Caramel is getting old, try Jeni's version  The balance between sweet and salt is pitch perfect. Sugar hits the tip of your tongue first and micro seconds later, sea salt tingles the buds on the edge, and both luxuriate on your palate for a wonderful while, before sliding to the back of your throat. .Like the label says, this isn't "salted" caramel, it's "salty caramel." A luxury, to be sure, but if you're willing to shell out 11 bucks a pint, Jeni's can be found on the shelves of King’s, Balducci's,  Stewarts, Caraluzzi’s and Ancona’s.  As long as you're splurging, grab a Dark Chocolate, too. 


Brooklyn has few farms.  But Steve’s Ice Cream factory still considers itself a locavore.  They just source their ingredients from nearby shops and restaurants instead of fields and barn yards.  In NOLA, the Joe is specially brewed by their neighbor Blue Bottle Coffee, an artisan bean roasting company who created a New Orleans iteration, laced with chicory, a taste that really bursts when iced.  The old fashioned donuts in the ice cram are baked in ovens of Pies N’ Thighs, a nearby Southern Restaurant, which features only fried chicken and waffles, plus the dreamiest donuts in New York.  Steve’s prides itself on unexpected combinations and nuanced mix-ins, but Nola marries flavors familiar to millions every morning:  Coffee with Cream and Sugar, and Donuts.  Available any time of day at Whole Foods, King’s, Stewart’s, and Caraluzzi’s … and yes, it’s the naughtiest breakfast ever. 


Though the label says "chocolate," the flavor is distinctively Truffle. This golden brown confection is woven with three quality chocolates to create a taste that is both decadent and divine.  Like many other of the new boutique ice creams, SOCA is churned in tiny batches at a small town creamery, this one in the Berkshires, using local purveyors for most of the ingredients. What makes this Bad Boy so Dirty? Because it was so messy to make, As SOCO says, "No apron can save you from getting covered in the chocolate “goop!’” Though not as heavy as we first expected, this frozen truffle treat is sinfully addictive, so chocoholics be warned. SOCO (Southern County) ice creams are available at Fairway, Whole Foods, Balducci’s, Stewart’s and Ancona’s. When you get to the freezer section, just think Dirty. 


Brain-Freeze.  This is hardly a handcrafted, boutique ice cream.  What’s worse, it was created by Country Singer Trace Adkins as part of the competition on Trump's Celebrity Apprentice tv show.  And even more dubious, it’s carried only at Walgreens!  So why do we recommend it? Because the unique duo of flavors is irresistible.  New England meets Hawaii.  The texture is surpassingly smooth, the macadamia flecked subtlety into the maple flavored cream, resulting in a rich, warm taste profile, with a lingering aftertaste that demands replenishment. We were tipped off to Macadamia Maple Mashup by an ice cream fanatic who warned that Walgreens has had trouble keeping its freezers stocked with this amazing flavor combo. It took us three stores to find a pint, the last one in stock. So MMM may or may not be available at your local Walgreens.


“After Dark” because this satiny ice cream is meant to cure those late night cravings for a dish of dense,dark chocolate.  Produced by the Stonyfield Dairy in New Hampshire (renowned for its yogurts ), this ice cream is totally organic, unsullied with artificial flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives. All its ingredients, from the coco beans to the cream itself contain no toxins. The result is a fresh chocolate taste that doesn’t cloy.  If you’re raiding the fridge late night, and willing to settle for a healthier chocolate, try Stonyfield’s After Dark Frozen Yogurt.  (But the more calorific Ice Cream can be easily enjoyed without guilt, especially in the dark.)  This national brand is available in most stores.


Hand packed at an artisanal dairy in tony Litchfield, Connecticut, which is owned by the bigwigs at Manalo Blahnik, you’d expect their chocolate ice cream to be oh so couture. Well fashionable it sure is, “Old Fashioned” that is.  Churned with organic milk, cream, eggs, sugar and cocoa, this chocolate transports you back to simpler times.  So shed your stilettos for worn out summer sneakers, sit down at the kitchen table, let your mom dish you up a bowl of chocolate ice cream, and totally indulge your inner eight year old.  Arethusa Farm claims you can only buy their ice cream at the farm (where a sign above the milking barn reads: “Each of our cows is a Lady.  Treat her as such.”)  But we found it at Ancona’s in Ridgefield.

Another excellent Connecticut super-premium is Iskream, which CTBites recently highlighted.   /home/2013/6/11/iskream-walnut-beach-creamery-owner-creates-new-brand-withou.html.