As days get colder and shorter, what better way to savour the last weeks of summer than by slamming copious amounts of ice cream down your throat? But even the simplest pleasures can lead to confusion in today's consumer culture---we have a slew of frozen treats to choose from and all are not created equal. Here are the cold facts:
Many prefer gelato over ice cream---it's better-tasting and better for you. Unlike ice cream, gelato is made with milk, not cream. It also has a lower air content, yielding a denser, creamier-tasting treat.
As for gelato producers, Fox Hill Farm in the Annapolis Valley takes the cake (available at the Halifax Farmers' Market, $7.50 for 500 ml.). It's the freshest gelato you're going to get. The grass-to-gelato transformation occurs in less than 24 hours, as a pipe funnels fresh milk from the barn to the small factory. Renowned for its cheese, the Rand family started making gelato two years ago, with guidance from an Italian gelato master. Their intense liquorice gelato inspires speechlessness.
Those with adventurous palettes can find unusual tastes at Dio Mio. The subtly flavoured lavender gelato stands out, as does the chunky candied ginger ($2.75). Many of Dio Mio's ingredients are local---the lavender comes from Maitland's Riverview Herbs. (And they may be joining up with Propeller Brewery to make root beer gelato.)
If it is swanky presentation and atmosphere you're after, try Maurizio Bertossi's Gelato A Mano (available at Il Mercato on Spring Garden Road and Ristorante a Mano at Bishop's Landing). Bertossi improves upon many conventional ice cream flavours. His velvety rum raisin tastes decadently buttery and melts in your mouth ($3).
Ice cream bashing aside, gorging on the stuff is a sinful pleasure not worth giving up. It's also a sensible choice when you need something firmer than gelato to eat between two cookies. Dee Dee's, whose products are all free of preservatives and artificial flavours, makes the best ice cream in Halifax, hands down, and takes ice cream sandwiches to the next level of heaven. The mint-brownie sandwich consists of a perfectly gooey brownie flanking a refreshing mint ice cream centre ($3.50). You can find Dee Dee's products in Peggys Cove and at locations across Halifax, including Local Source, Home Grown Organic and the Farmers' Market. [Editor's note: see correction below.]
Sushi restaurants are a great place to find exotic flavours, such as green tea, mango and black sesame (available "fried" for $6 at Hamachi Kita in the Hydrostone). On a budget? Head to Ko Doraku in Spring Garden Place for black sesame or green tea ice cream at half that price.
Forced to choose between the big guys, it's safe to say Scotsburn's ice cream tastes the least processed. It has resisted the national trend of moving toward an oil base and use recognizable ingredients like cream and butter. The company has also expanded its research team: A group of certified specialists develops new flavours in a Truro laboratory, including this summer's Dark Chocolate Shiver, which will wind up in our mouths after lots of rigamarole and presentations to various committees.
Sorbet is the only salvation for the growing numbers of poor souls allergic to milk (or those morally upstanding individuals who oppose it for ethical reasons).
While Pete's Frootique has some yummy gelato flavours, their sorbets wins the gold. With a glut of fruits to choose from in-store, staff often experiment with new flavours. The tangy raspberry sorbet ($3) provides instant gratification, giving taste-buds a swift kick. The downside is that the berries aren't local.
Dio Mio fills that niche, with mouth-watering flavours made from seasonal Scotian berries.Correction, August 21: At present, Dee-dee's ice cream can be purchased at Local Source, the Farmer's Market, Mariposa (in Tantallon), Local Jo's Cafe, The Grainery and in Peggy's Cove. Homegrown Organic does not stock Dee-dee's.