Daniel Neman: We all scream for waaaaaay too much ice cream

©St. Louis Post-Dispatch

National Ice Cream Retailers Association holds a contest to determine the best new ice cream flavor of the year at its annual convention. - Dreamstime/Dreamstime/TNS

There were still 14 samples of ice cream to go when I first thought that I might not want any more ice cream.

I had already tried 25 samples, and I have to say this: Twenty-five samples of anything is enough. Even ice cream.

But I’m a professional, or the next best thing. So I plugged on, with the help of an ice cream called the Charleston.

The Charleston is an ice cream made with cold-brew coffee and homemade pralines, and it was delicious. Maybe it was the quality of the ice cream, maybe it was the jolt of caffeine, but I was ready again to soldier on.

Earlier this month, the National Ice Cream Retailers Association held its annual convention. This year, of course, the convention was all held online. Instead of traveling to a different city, the convention was held at the organization’s hometown of Chesterfield, Missouri (why is the national trade organization’s headquarters in St. Louis County? Why not?).

The group was founded in 1933 and held its first convention four years later. One of the annual convention’s highlights is a contest to determine the best new ice cream flavor of the year.

That’s where I came in — I and nine other civic-minded volunteers. We had all selflessly agreed to serve as judges for the contest.

Usually, incidentally, the judging is done by the members of the organization, who are typically owners of mom-and-pop ice cream parlors that make their own ice cream in the back room. In other words, experts.

Our dedicated group — we few, we happy few, we band of tasters — spanned the full spectrum of ice cream expertise. In our number were a couple of chefs, a culinary arts professor at St. Louis Community College, a barbecue blogger and a TV reporter with a focus on food, as well as a teacher of the year in the Rockwood School District and a couple of people who were apparently chosen because they are friends of the association’s executive producer, Steve Cristensen.

Judging was in two categories, nondairy frozen desserts and ice cream. Only eight or nine of the offerings were nondairy, and I think I speak for the entire board of judges when I say that is a good thing. Nondairy ice creams promise so much yet deliver so little (unless, of course, you have to eat it for medical, religious or ethical reasons).

Incidentally, if you do have to eat nondairy ice cream, versions made with sunflower oil are definitely the way to go. It does an amazingly good job of mimicking the texture of real ice cream.

Until you have real ice cream, that is, especially until you have nearly 30 samples of real ice cream.

We were supposed to judge the offerings on three factors: flavor, originality and marketability. I have a problem with giving equal weight to originality, even though the purpose of this contest was to determine the best new flavor. Sauerkraut-liver ice cream would be wildly original and thus would score high marks in fully one-third of the categories, but I wouldn’t want to eat it and neither would you.

None of the samples we judges tried last week was as bad as that, although a few were kind of close (smoke is simply not a flavor that should be added to any poor, innocent ice cream). Most were pretty decent, and a few were outstanding.

My favorite was probably Buckeye ice cream, though I did not give it a high mark for originality (Graeter’s Ice Cream, out of my hometown of Cincinnati, has made it for years). That’s a chocolate ice cream with a hint of peanut butter, chocolate shavings and little pieces of buckeye candies (peanut butter encased in milk chocolate).

I was also particularly fond of Grandma’s Apple Cake, a caramel-cinnamon custard with homemade apple cake containing walnuts and coconut, with caramel variegate — it’s an industry term for sauces that are swirled into ice creams without blending into them.

I was additionally impressed by the delicious audacity of Bob and Quello’s Secret Recipe Ice Cream, which uses Cinnamon Toast Crunch-infused cereal milk to make the ice cream that is then packed with clusters of crispy crepe flakes rolled in white chocolate and cookie crumble.

The winners were announced two days later, at the end of the convention: Bee My Honeycomb, honeycomb ice cream with honeycomb candy and local honey, made by Outside the Cone in Lynchburg, Virginia, came in first; the Charleston, which had memorably revived me, took second place. The top nondairy award went to Vegan Pistachio Cherry, made by Karen’s Kreamery of Avondale, Arizona.

As fate would have it, before I went to the contest I was trying to develop a recipe for hot chocolate ice cream. The batch I made just before I left was disappointing, but close to what I was looking for. When I got home, I made another batch that was excellent.

Too much ice cream is never enough.

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