It is with great pleasure that I tasked myself with finding the best frozen desserts in the area during perhaps the hottest week this summer. Some people will balk or gag at the thought of consuming large quantities of frozen milk product in such heat, but not I. Quite frankly, I could do it all again this week.

Let me begin with stating that I love ice cream. I mean, really, really, love ice cream. And gelato. OK, basically any sort of frozen milk product. I take it very seriously; I have some very strong opinions about it. If I could survive on ice cream alone, I would. It doesn’t matter how full I am, I always have room for the cold, creamy deliciousness that ice cream provides. My theory is that even if I’m the most full I’ve ever been — Thanksgiving full, I call it — the ice cream will just melt into the crevasses inside my stomach and intestines. However, eating ice cream in mass quantities leads to crevasses outside of my stomach and intestines, so I (poorly) try to control myself.

This past week I went on a hunt to find some delicious, creamy frozen desserts from local establishments. I managed to try frozen custard, ice cream, sorbetto, and gelato, and as any connoisseur of frozen dairy products will tell you, these items are not the same. They are indeed comprised of the same base ingredients — cream, milk, sugar, eggs — but percentages of these items differ, as does the way in which they are processed. Another factor that contributes to this difference is the amount of air that is incorporated into the mixture.

I won’t bore you with all of the fine details of these differences, or the USDA definitions of ice cream, frozen custard, or gelato (there is no USDA definition of gelato, by the way). Suffice to say that frozen custard contains more egg yolks than ice cream, and gelato has less air incorporated than both custard and ice cream. Gelato and custard should be denser and creamier than ice cream, with gelato the densest of the three. The terms sherbet, sorbet, and sorbetto are often used interchangeably here in the U.S., but should not. Sherbet contains some dairy — a much smaller amount than ice cream, custard, and gelato. Sherbet, sorbet, and sorbetto contain more sugar. Sorbet and sorbetto should not contain any dairy, as they are fruit juice based concoctions.

Still with me? Excellent.

I sampled frozen treats — OK, ate entire portions — from Jarling’s Custard Cup, the Sidney Dairy Barn, Cream & Flutter, and Prairie Fruits Farm

Jarling’s Custard Cup
I was surprised to learn that Jarling’s doesn’t actually serve custard. They serve ice milk. Custard contains eggs; Jarling’s product does not. They say so right here, and I confirmed it with an employee. Frozen custard contains egg yolks, which act as emulsifiers and provide for a rich, creamy, stable mixture. The egg yolks create a mixture that tends to become less hard and icy in the freezer. Ice milk, on the other hand, has the potential to become more icy and grainy. This explains the often grainy, gritty, or icy texture of the "custard" I’ve eaten from Jarling’s in the past. This also explains why I’ve been disappointed with the product: I had unrealistic expectations for it.

A plain scoop of Jarling’s ice milk has never really done it for me, but when I was introduced to the snowstorm, I changed my tune. I like the snowstorms. In fact, now that Jarling’s accepts debit/credit cards, I eat snowstorms more frequently. I went twice in the last week (for research, of course). The first time I went, I ordered my go-to: a chocolate-banana snowstorm with vanilla ice milk. It’s quite good. I’d gladly show you a photo, but alas, I ate it too quickly and forgot to document my research. My gripe with the snowstorms, though, is that they melt way too quickly. Now that I’ve learned that the product is ice milk, the melting should be expected because there are fewer emulsifiers (no yolks), which causes melting to occur more quickly. I’m also assuming that the mixing in of the snowstorm ingredients contributes to the melting.

Nevertheless, the chocolate-banana snowstorm is great because Jarling’s uses real bananas, which seem to be the perfect consistency to be properly distributed throughout the cup. I’ve noticed that sometimes the heavier items (pie crust, graham crackers, larger, solid candies) end up unevenly distributed. Both chocolate and banana are strong flavors, but they’re appropriately matched in this combination. The vanilla ice milk provides a neutral base for the banana and the chocolate.

So because I forgot to take a photo of my tasty snowstorm, I headed back a few days later to try another item. I ordered what is a classic in this area: a cold fudge sundae. Cold fudge sundaes do not exist where I grew up, and before this week, I’d never had one. Fudge is intended to be served hot, in my humble opinion. Furthermore, for me, a sundae indicates something in addition to fudge, like whipped cream and/or a cherry, maybe some nuts. According to the Jarling’s website, the cold fudge was "invented" because the hot fudge melted the ice milk too quickly. Please forgive me Jarling’s enthusiasts, but isn’t that the entire point of putting hot fudge on cold ice cream? The hot fudge melts the top of the ice cream or custard and it gets all melty and gooey and the whipped cream holds on as long as it can until you slurp it up! You can imagine my disappointment and confusion when I was passed this cup of ice milk and cold fudge. Honestly, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with this cold fudge concept if it had been good, but my sundae was not good. Despite its shiny appearance, the fudge was chalky and gritty; it tasted like cheap Hershey’s syrup. The ice milk was unexciting — it was kind of gritty and icy, and lacked flavor. The entire cup was underwhelming, and I didn’t even finish it. “Ah, yes,” I thought to myself, “This is why I always order a snowstorm.” The snowstorms have all the stuff in them so that you’re not thinking about how bland the ice milk is.

To be fair, I did not know about the ice milk thing when I had the cold fudge sundae. Surely the addition of hot fudge to ice milk would cause an incredibly rapid meltdown. However, not knowing about the ice milk, I ate and critiqued the cold fudge sundae as if it were custard. Custard would not have completely melted down with the addition of hot fudge because of the amount of egg yolk distributed in the mixture. I probably wouldn’t order a cold fudge sundae again, but I do very much like the snowstorms, so I would encourage you to go there and order one. They even have a punch card, where you can buy nine and get the tenth free. The snowstorm menu is quite extensive, and surely you will find or create a combination you’ll enjoy. Snowstorms range in price from $3.75 to $5.95; cups, cones, and sundaes range in price from $1.75 to $5.25.

One final comment is that the quality of service is really hit or miss. When I went and ordered the snowstorm, the young man taking my order was incredibly unprofessional and downright rude. I handed him my credit card to pay, and after he swiped the card, he put the receipt on a clipboard, shoved it at me, and said, quite rudely, “sign.” On the other hand, another young man handed me my order with a smile. It’s always busy there, and the staff is mostly comprised of moody teenagers — I understand it’s stressful — but there is no excuse for sheer rudeness; as a fellow human being, I think I deserve a little respect.

Sidney Dairy Barn
I had a very small sample of some ice cream from the Sidney Dairy Barn while at the Market at the Square one Saturday, and decided that I should have a proper sample from the barn itself. A friend and I made the drive to Sidney on a hot evening last week. Parking in front of the barn was limited; there was a pretty hefty line when we got there. I was surprised at the speed with which the young women working took and fulfilled the orders. They were pleasant and efficient. My friend ordered a s’mores tornado, and I ordered the most elaborate thing I could find on the menu, the Barn Burner. The two items cost $8 total, so it wasn’t too hard on the wallet. 

The s’mores tornado contained vanilla ice cream, marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate, all mixed together like a Jarling’s snowstorm. There were large chunks of graham crackers mixed throughout the tornado, which my friend dug for eagerly. The chocolate was in short supply, though, and the marshmallow was nowhere to be found. The mixture melted quickly, and soon turned soupy. Overall, the tornado wasn’t bad, but my friend and I were in agreement that it needed more stuff mixed in.

The barn burner contained two "towers" of vanilla ice cream in a cup-shaped cone, with caramel and chocolate sauce drizzled overtop. It also came with one topping of my choosing, and I selected Reese’s peanut butter cups. My ice cream melted quickly also, but was contained in my cone-cup. The texture of the ice cream was very thin — it tasted like ice milk, and I wonder if they, too, don’t use a egg yolks in their ice cream. The flavor combination was lovely, though, and I highly recommend vanilla, caramel, chocolate, and peanut butter cups. The cone was sweet and crunchy, without any sogginess. I was incredibly and pleasantly surprised that it didn’t disintegrate with all of the liquid inside.

Cream & Flutter
I saw on their Facebook page that in addition to serving Jeni’s homemade ice cream, Cream & Flutter are now making and serving ice cream cookie sandwiches and cake slices with their own homemade ice cream. I ventured to the shop and sampled the ice cream sandwiches and a slice of ice cream cake. 

The ice cream sandwiches were available in two varieties: vanilla ice cream with chocolate chip cookies, or vanilla and salted caramel ice cream with peanut butter toffee cookies. These sandwiches were awesome. Both ice creams were really delicious, with smooth, creamy consistencies, and sweet, complex flavors. I shared these ice cream sandwiches with a friend, but because the cookies were so large and frozen, it was impossible to cut them into sandwich halves. The layer of ice cream was thin and melting quickly, so I improvised and cut them into open-faced ice cream cookie sandwiches. The cookies were a little hard, which happens when they’re frozen. The ice cream to cookie ratio was a bit off; I wanted more ice cream and fewer cookies. Both cookies and ice cream were excellent individually, but I really wanted more ice cream. It was good!

I took the ice cream cake slice home (I do have some self control). It was four layer cake: chocolate cake, cookies and cream ice cream, chocolate ganache, and another layer of chocolate cake. The softness of the cake made digging in much easier on the fork and the mouth than the sandwiches. The ice cream was, again, creamy and delicious, without any gritty bite. The ganache was rich and smooth. The cake layer touching the ice cream was spongy and light, and a nice surface for the creamy ice cream. The  cake layer on top of the ganache, however, was dry and unnecessary. I think this cake slice would have been perfect without that additional top layer of cake.

I was very satisfied with Cream & Flutter’s homemade ice cream options. The sandwiches might be a little difficult to eat as intended, but if you open them up like an Oreo, you’re all set. I wish they’d start selling their own homemade ice cream — Jeni’s can stay in Ohio. The downside of this visit was that each homemade ice cream item was $5.99. That’s just crazy.

Prairie Fruits Farm
If you haven’t already tried their gelato or sorbettos, you must. It’s essential to your well-being. I have tried several flavors of their gelato offerings, including pumpkin pie, stracciatella (chocolate swirl or chip), cajeta (caramel), honey chevre, hazelnut, lemon balm/thyme, and most recently, the autumn berry sorbetto. All of these items are delicious: the gelatos are creamy and complex, with flavors that are neither too overpowering nor too subtle. The gelatos are made from goat’s milk; the sorbettos have no dairy.

The lemon balm/thyme has a lovely, delicate lemon scent and flavor. The herbs that are used to infuse the flavor in the milk product are also delicate, and paired with the creaminess of the milk; these flavors are refreshing. If you read my Meal from the Market article, you may have noticed that I previously paired the lemon balm/thyme with a peach cobbler — the combination of sweet peach cobbler and the light and bright lemon balm/thyme gelato was delightful. The gelato stands alone too, and can certainly be eaten sans toppings.

The autumn berry sorbetto is not as subtle in flavor as the lemon balm/thyme gelato. This dairy-free frozen offering packs a tart, earthy punch. The sorbetto isn’t creamy in the way a custard or gelato is, but rather icy — it’s frozen fruit juice, after all. Upon eating this sorbetto, my taste buds puckered up, and that feeling in the back of my mouth when I eat tart things was instantly soothed by the sweetness of the other flavors in the mix. The autumn berry was tangy, and as a friend described it, "twiggy." The autumn berry is a unique flavor — it’s a berry that’s foraged instead of traditionally cultivated — and it certainly tastes a little bit wild. The texture of this sorbetto is unique as well. There are pieces of fruit within the sorbetto, but they are so small that it creates a bit of a strange, somewhat mealy texture, similar to the seeds of a strawberry or blueberry. I don’t mind it so much, but I can see how others may prefer something with a smoother consistency.

At $10 per pint, these are not exactly cheap. If you’re having a few folks over for dinner, or celebrating something, it’s totally worth the treat. Prairie Fruits Farms sells their pints at the Market on the Square each Saturday, or you can also get a pint or a cone from the Farm during Summer Open House and On Farm Sales, Wednesdays through August 14, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

I encourage you to venture out to one of these places and find something that you love. I bet if you pick something that is named after some sort of disaster, you’ll be satisfied. Happy eating!