Missing your daily dose of Oprah? Well, at least you can now drown your sorrows in a pint of her favorite ice cream, as the Cincinnati-based Graeter's recently entered the Twin Cities market.
Graeter's is a super-premium, high milk-fat content product, like Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry's. The ice cream is produced using an extremely labor-intensive process called French pot, in which the liquid ingredients--Graeter's avoids unpronounceable ones--are quick-frozen in spinning, two-gallon cylinders, and then hand-packed into pints.
The family-run company has been in business since 1870, but until last year, when the company built a new production plant that would quadruple production, the brand was little-seen outside of a few dozen ice cream parlors and the Kroger supermarkets in the Midwest, Texas, and Colorado. In 2002, after Oprah Winfrey declared on her show, "You haven't had ice cream till you've had Graeter's. The butter pecan is Stedman's favorite, and mine, too," the company was apparently deluged with 800,000 phone and Internet orders, enough to disable the Cincinnati Bell phone company's switch.
So does it live up to the hype?[jump]
Graeter's offered me a sample, and I found it to be excellent stuff--on par with the ice cream of other national superpremium brands and local artisan shops. The vanilla, for example, is ultra-dense and creamy, speckled with a substantial amount of vanilla bean seeds that give it a heady, floral sweetness. But, no offense to Ms. O., the butter pecan isn't really where the company differentiates itself--that would be with the flavors that contain chocolate chips.
When it comes to people who eat ice cream, they may be divided into chunk people and non-chunk people. If you are someone who, instead of scooping off the top of the ice cream in layers, leaves the carton riddled with tunnels that have drilled out all the cookie dough hunks or whatnot, you are a chunk person. If you liken uncovering a *whole entire Oreo cookie* in a scoop of the Sebastian Joe's stuff to finding the coin in the Christmas pudding, you are a chunk person.
So chunk people, listen up: Graeter's makes its chocolate chip flavors by pouring liquid chocolate into the spinning pot, which freezes in a thick layer on top of the ice cream and are then broken up and mixed into the ice cream. Forget those flinty little flakes found in most brands of peppermint bon bon and mocha chip. In every few bites of a pint of Graeter's you'll find big chunks of non-waxy chocolate that melt quickly on the tongue.
If you want to try it for yourself, find Graeter's in the metro area at Lunds, Byerly's, Whole Foods, Kowalski's, and Bloomington Festival Foods.