Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wilde Taste Tester

What do you do for the man who has everything when his birthday rolls around?  Why, you make him Charlie and bring him to is own Chocolate Factory.  Or as it was in this case - Dad and the Perry's Ice Cream Factory!

That's right, I'm the best daughter in the world and I took my dad to his most favorite place in the world for his birthday - the Perry's Ice Cream Factory in Akron, NY. 

Now I can't take all the credit for thinking up this amazing birthday trip.  In reality, it was kismet, fate, destiny or just plain luck, that Perry's Ice Cream invited me (and a special guest) to come visit the factory for their first ever - Perry's Taste Testing event.  The tour and taste testing happened to land on my dads birthday weekend, so I flew home to celebrate (and eat lots of ice cream) with him at Perry's.

If you're not a local Western New Yorker, you might not be familiar with Perry's Ice Cream.  It's a local brand that fills the freezer cases at TOPS and Wegmans in my hometown.  It's the ice cream that our local schools carried when we were kids (get them hooked young!).  Perry's is what you find at local ice cream stands.  If you happen to live near a Wegmans grocery store (except that new one in Boston), you can buy Perry's Ice Cream.  If you are outside of their distribution region, you can come visit me.  I have lots in my freezer.

Perry's is still run by a Perry actually.  See that guy above?  That's Brian Perry, executive vice president and fourth generation Perry's ice cream worker.  During our trip to the factory, we actually got to look down on the factory floor and watch the ice cream being made (sorry, no pics allowed!).  Cartons of ice cream were zipping around all over the place.  Huge silver drums processed the ingredients and immediately distributed the product into containers and sent them to the freezer.  The front of the room was dominated by a machine dedicated to making ice cream sandwiches.  It was totally fascinating.

My dad and I weren't alone in our visit to Perry's.  A few other bloggers were there (Hello to Ashley and Brette!) as well as some local press and other businesses (Including a girl I totally graduated high school with.  But she either didn't recognize me, or is still too cool for school.).  There's me in my bright green pants, standing next to my dad, who is so excited to be there.

A quick group shot with Brian Perry (jammed in the back behind my bright green legs) and some questions from the press (did you know Perry's recycles/reuses/re-purposes just about everything that comes in their doors?) and we were finally off to the most important part - the taste testing!

Now this was going to be a big job.  We weren't there to just eat the ice cream.  We were there to taste test it and give our opinions.  The great ladies at Perry's gave us a presentation about how to taste test.  We had to think about the following things...

1. Texture
2. Flavor
3. Aroma

Lactose-Free Vanilla
Texture is pretty straightforward - Perry's pasteurizes their ice cream low and slow rather than a hot flash pasteurization.  This leads to a smoother, creamier ice cream.  It's devoid of large ice crystals, unless you leave it in the freezer for months, but who is going to do that!  Texture is also touched upon when the ice cream has inclusions - or little bits of something else.  Inclusions vary from nuts to chocolate to candies. 
Oh My, Cherry Pie!
Flavor is where it gets tricky.  First - dairy.  Someone from the South might not like Perry's because you can definitely taste the dairy in the ice cream.  Southerners tend to prefer a sweeter ice cream rather than one with a lot of dairy notes.  Us Northern ice cream eaters like to taste the dairy notes, then the flavors and sweetness.
Movie Time

 Flavor gets more complicated as you add extracts, fruits, chocolates and inclusions.  Did you know there are four different types of vanilla?  Or that you can describe the taste of chocolate in over 20 different ways?  From roasted to nutty, burnt to barny, chocolate is very complex. 

Sponge Candy
Finally comes aroma.  When you plan a taste testing event, be sure to avoid wearing perfumes, lighting scented candles or eating/drinking anything else for about 20 minutes.  You want a clean palate.  Drink plenty of water in between flavors and go from lightest to heaviest flavor (we went from vanilla to dark chocolate).  Be sure your ice cream has a few minutes to warm up from the freezer, other wise you'll just taste cold.  
Queen of Hearts
We taste tested seven different flavors.  Let me tell you, it was a hard task.  I know, I know.  "Eating all that ice cream must have been terrible!"  It was not terrible, I was just very full.  I was a little confused by the Movie Time flavor (Popcorn flavored ice cream with swirls of sea salt caramel and caramel truffles).  It smelled like movie theater popcorn, but tasted like caramel.  Yet it had the aftertaste of popcorn.  My dad loved it and finished mine.

All Natural Black Cherry
I fell in love with the Queen of Hearts flavor (Dark chocolate ice cream with a raspberry swirl and fudge filled hearts).  Most of the men in the room didn't like this one, while the ladies were more partial to it.  I think women tend to lean more toward dark chocolate than to men.  There was also a local flavor - Sponge candy!  Something to get the WNYers excited about summer and bring out the local aspect of Perry's. 

Party Sandwich!
We even got to try their newest novelty - the Party Sandwich.  This will be a bit hit with the under 12 crowd.  Cake batter ice cream, filled with rainbow sprinkles, sandwiched between two vanilla cookies.  They were fun, but sadly the last thing we had for the day.  I couldn't come anywhere near finishing it.

We wrote down all our comments, using our new flavor words like cultured, smoky, caramelized and buttery and handed our comment cards to the Perry's Team.  Hopefully our comments will help make more delicious flavors?  I'd totally be willing to come back and try some more flavors!


The only thing I'm bummed about?  We got to take home a few pints of our favorites, but since I flew to Buffalo, my dad took ownership of all my ice cream!  Plus, all the flavors we tried that day are ice cream stand flavors - not available in the stores!  I guess I'll just have to make another trip to WNY this summer and get a scoop or two by the river.

Before we left, the Perry's team offered to take us into their freezer.  This is not your traditional, basement freezer with a few half gallons of ice cream.  The Perry's freezer is a warehouse, kept at 25 degrees below zero, filled from floor to ceiling with pallets and pallets of ice cream.  My dad wanted to back the truck up to the loading dock and load up a few pallets for himself.

I took the picture on the left just after we got into the freezer.  My dad took a picture of me after spending about a minute in the freezer.  His hands were shaking so bad, all three images he took looked like this!  The freezer workers laughed at us when we came out to warm back up.  But at least I look awesome in a hard hat.  It matched my pants.

This summer I'll have to try to a few of these flavors in my little machine.  It will be a little hard in my home kitchen, but I'm up for the challenge!  I think sponge candy would make an amazing ice cream sandwich (hint hint!).

I there a local brand of ice cream in your part of the country?  Do you prefer it over the big guys?

Photo Credits - Photos 3-6, 15 & 16 are credited to Yuka Photo Art (all the rest are from my iPhone)

Note - While Perry's did provide samples for taste testing, there was no financial compensation for the trip or this post.  I like to write about Perry's because they are one of my local hometown businesses. 
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