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"It's incredible how important local is to everybody," says Keller, who started making ice cream as a restaurateur with a Kingston storefront in 1985 and, in 2005, switched gears to focus solely on wholesale with her husband and co-owner Bob Guidubaldi. "We got calls this year from two local theater companies saying, 'We were selling novelties, but we really want to go local this year. We really want to up our game.'' The attitude toward quality, artisanal—people are willing to pay for it."
Of course, ice cream isn't just about dairy. From staples like strawberry to more idiosyncratic, offbeat varieties, local artisanal ice cream makers make painstaking strides to source not just local milk and cream, but nearby everything.
Tapping into the flavors of the Hudson Valley makes for some adventurous, often out-there concoctions that range from smash hits to acquired tastes, like Nancy's sour cream cherry, goat cheese beet ice cream at Alleyway Ice Cream, Zora Dora's lavender honey ice cream with honey from Astorino's own bees, or Jane's currants and cream, made with berries from the Hudson Valley.
"I almost always have chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, because I can just do them really well and everyone likes them," says Julian Hom, owner of Alleyway. "But then I try to have one that is an elevated version of the normal spectrum, and two others that are more far out and intriguing." Recent flavors at the Saugerties creamery include Earl Gray & Mom's Scones, Lemon Poppyseed, and Wildfire, a blend of fresh wintermint, habanero, and smoked walnuts.
- Photo: Rob Karosis
- Above: Waffle cones are made fresh daily at Zoe’s Ice Cream Barn.
"We take the basic ice cream and we step it up a notch," Spata echoes.
Of course, the major ingredients like cocoa and vanilla don't grow here in the Hudson Valley. But for small-batch artisanal ice cream makers, if it's not local, it's still high-quality, like the Tahitian vanilla Spata uses for Nancy's vanilla ice cream, the Belgian chocolate Hom sources, or the sesame seeds Keller roasts herself for Jane's new Sesame Necessity flavor.
Another distinct marker of artisanal ice cream makers in the valley is the offering of vegan options. Usually, dairy-free choices amount to sorbets—something offered at most ice cream shops these days, artisanal or not. And, hey, no hate for those—nothing cleanses the palate after dinner like a sorbet. But any vegan will tell you that while it is undoubtedly sweet and cold, it doesn't quite scratch that ice cream itch.
Prompted by her vegan dogwalker, Spata was inspired to experiment with vegan ice cream. And so, in addition to sorbets, Nancy's vegan chocolate, vanilla, and mint chocolate chip flavors were born, all made from a coconut milk and coconut cream base. Over at Alleyway, Hom is working on perfecting his dairy-free vegan ice cream using a base of homemade cashew milk, to which he can add whatever flavor combination he chooses. And at Weir's Ice Cream in Salisbury Mills, an Orange County staple since 1956, the dairy-averse can indulge in low-fat coconut milk chocolate chip (all of their hard ice creams are homemade). If gluten-free is your jam, Zora Dora's has you covered with gluten-free ice cream sandwiches, which, according to Astorino, fly off the shelves.
The word "artisanal" as it applies to local ice cream goes beyond what's in it and how it tastes; it also extends to the owners' intensive approach to quality control. From the larger and more established Jane's, which is distributed in four states, to Alleyway producing four quarts at a time in a repurposed linen closet of Hom's father's inn, these ice cream makers pride themselves on working on the front lines to ensure a quality product from farm to cone.
- Alleyway Ice Cream proprietor Julian Hom.
Might all this extra love, and extra attention to quality, add just a bit to the price tag? Naturally. Keller says Jane's could cost as much as "double the lowest brands," and at Nancy's, a single scoop in a cup will run you $3.75. The seasonal nature of ice cream also complicates the pricing structure, given the fact that many creameries close in the cold months.
But, as Spata noted, the care that goes into small-batch, homemade ice cream makes it worth the price for the customers. "When you say 'I made it myself,' people just like that, instead of saying it came from the middle of the country," says Spata. "I think people appreciate that more, and they're willing to pay for it."