Get the Scoop on Kentucky
By the seasons in Kentucky, locally made gourmet ice cream shops source mint or strawberries in spring followed by peaches in mid-summer. Bourbon, however, is a perennial local ingredient praised most by four craft ice cream producers between Louisville and Lexington:
Bourbon Ball ice cream is the top seller year-round at Comfy Cow.
Gelato Gilberto spikes bourbon throughout its new Bananas Foster Brooks flavor inside the shop in Louisville’s Norton Commons.
Customers seek Bourbon and Honey ice cream above any other flavor at Crank & Boom in Lexington, a 2-year-old scoop shop on the verge of opening a second store around Labor Day.
Expect bourbon to lace the ice cream and new homemade hand pies in the debut scoop shop of Louisville Cream, opening in late spring on East Market Street in Louisville’s NuLu neighborhood.
Bulleit bourbon “has a strong vanilla flavor, a sweetness,” Louisville Cream founder Darryl Goodner said of the spirit’s appeal. “It also stays alive on the back end of the taste, a complex flavor that is not quite yeasty, but something stronger.”
The first Louisville Cream scoop shop caps a two-year journey by Goodner, who swapped a Rubbertown factory job earning $25 per hour to build an ice cream brand via catering, farmers’ markets and, more recently, retail sales of his complex flavors at $8.99 per pint at purveyors like Rainbow Blossom.
“I can’t afford my own ice cream right now, at $5 a scoop,” Goodner joked in April as he surveyed construction of the new store near Harvest restaurant and Muth’s Candies. No one, he added, makes ice cream like he does.
“It’s because I really, really, really give a shit,” Goodner said, adding he comes from the Ben & Jerry’s school of ice cream, meaning unexpected combinations chock-full of chunks and surprises.
On the new Louisville Cream menu, look for a “Butter Toast Sundae,” fashioned with house-made brioche or challah with brown sugar compound butter, scorched with a torch before topping with salted caramel ice cream and a sprinkle of sea salt.
Besides his own, the ice cream Goodner says he admires most comes from Crank & Boom, a Lexington craft ice cream maker.
Both Louisville Cream and Crank & Boom source J.D. Country milk and cream but the flavor combinations run simpler at the Lexington creamery.
Kentucky Blackberry & Buttermilk ice cream, for example, is a customer favorite containing seedless Windstone Farms blackberry jam, a brand with roots in Paris, Kentucky, said Toa Green, Crank & Boom’s owner and “master ice cream crafter.”
The flavor “sounds weird to some people,” Green said. “Once they try it, it’s very addictive.”
At 1210 Manchester St. in Lexington, the Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge charges $4 for a scoop or a local craft beer.
Come fall, Crank & Boom will be one of the local food businesses to open at The Barn upon the opening of The Summit at Fritz Farm. That means shoppers at places like Pottery Barn can find locally crafted ice cream and farm-sourced dining just steps away in what developers call a "local food hall." Inside The Barn, Lexington shoppers will also find local restaurateurs serving Japanese ramen, seafood and grassfed beef, according to the Summit website.
“We didn’t think we were that interested in being in a shopping center,” Green said. “Now I am really excited. Developers are starting to see how important supporting local business people is.”
Louisville’s oldest craft creamery is Gelato Gilberto, marking 11 years in business since Justin Gilbert studied the craft in Italy. Gelato contains more milk and less cream than ice cream. Gelato offers “more vivid flavor,” said co-owner Kristin Gilbert, because it is served softer, at 8° above zero.
Tuesday mornings bring weekly deliveries of J.D. Country Milk and Horizon organic cream. Gilbert scours seasonal wares weekly after serving gelato by the cup at Louisville’s St. Matthews Farmers’ Market.
“A Mennonite kid from Indiana brings me his giant baskets of peaches,” Gilbert said. “That is my big source.”
The ice cream makers agree that local seasonal strawberries are more difficult to come by. Cold, wet springs can limit supply.
Everyone praised peach season. At Comfy Cow, co-owner Tim Koons-McGee said they wait for Kentucky peaches in August, often harvested after the first Georgia crops roll into competitors’ ice cream shops by mid-July.
“We’re sticking with what we’ve been doing. For better or for worse I think it is the right thing to do,” Koons-McGee said. “Sometimes financially, I’m not really sure.”
While Comfy Cow counts eight locations after more than seven years in business, the focus is on growing supermarket sales, he said. Since August, a traditional round pint design replaced Comfy Cows’ original box packaging. Since then, Comfy Cow has also expanded into Schnucks, a 90-market chain based in St. Louis, Missouri, and can be found inside Harris Teeter, a 243-store subsidiary of Kroger.
Dean’s Milk is the mainstay at Comfy Cow while the needle is turning from ambitious combinations “like goat cheese, balsamic basil and strawberry” to simpler satisfaction, he said.
“We’ve really tried to focus on making less-complex flavors even better and make them creamier and smoother,” Koons-McGee said. “Our Brown Butter Peanut Brittle is like sex. It’s just that good. We make homemade peanut brittle. We brown the butter. It’s just so on point. You get the salty and the sweet and the earthiness from the browned butter. It is complex enough.”