Ottawa Street Farmers' Market is serving up artisan ice cream this summer with their new vendor Dr. Scoop Icecreamist. "Apart from the fact that it's cold, creamy and delicious, I think ice cream reminds people of childhood and happiness," says founder Ciara Brennan. Handmade in small batches, her ice cream is made locally from fresh Harmony Organic cream and milk, with eggs from free-run chickens and fruits that are actually in-season at the market. With flavours like Vanilla Salted Pretzel, Smoked Oatmeal Stout and Ontario Strawberry Basil, you won't find your typical varieties here. Ciara loves the idea of collaborating with local businesses like Detour Coffee, who's espresso she uses in her Perk-o-cet flavour. Drawing inspiration from her travels, she too takes flavour suggestions from her customers. "Everyone has at least one memorable ice cream in their lives, whether it is Bananas Foster or Blueberry-Lavender," says Ciara, "And I love to hear new suggestions!"
We just found out that Cake & Loaf Bakery is carrying Dr. Scoop ice cream as well. And let us tell you, this is dangerously close to our houses. We stopped in the other day and left with three pints. SO GOOD. Did we mention they are extending their hours Wednesday - Friday until 8 p.m. to serve your summer ice cream needs? Yay!
What is it about ice cream that appeals to so many?
It's a simple thing, but it brings such pleasure to people. Having only just started Dr. Scoop a few weeks ago, I am amazed at the excitement that people express at the sight of homemade ice cream! Even the toughest guy turns into a bit of a little kid when we finally coerce him into trying a flavour like Oatmeal Stout. The best part about this entire venture so far is seeing the smile on people's faces when first try a sample. It's awesome!
How did you get into making ice cream? What did you do before?
I actually haven't "quit my day job," so to speak. I work in Toronto in the film industry. Specifically, the costume department as a member of I.A.T.S.E. Local 873. I've done that for over 10 years. I've always LOVED ice cream (not that that makes me unique…ice cream is really a universal treat) and I appreciate anything handmade, whether it's clothing, furniture, or food. I started Dr. Scoop, Icecreamist after realizing how much better tasting ice cream is when it's handmade with organic ingredients like milk, cream, and eggs, and created using the traditional method of a custard base…something that is rarely, if ever, done in ice cream parlours these days.
What is your work like day-to-day?
I have a work schedule of about 3 - 4 days of actually making the ice cream, interspersed with runs back and forth to Toronto for certain supplies, such as fair-trade chocolate from Chocosol Traders. A batch of ice cream takes at least two days to make. Once the custard is prepared, it actually needs to be refrigerated for several hours in order to attain the best consistency. After it's run through the gelato machine, I like to let it freeze really solidly for at least 24 hours before packing pints. Hence the 3 days! It is definitely not a fast process and requires a lot of patience.
What are the benefits of organic ice cream?
It tastes amazing! The best part about it is knowing that the cows are treated humanely. They are able to wander around pastures and actually eat grass, as opposed to being trapped in small pens 24 hours a day and treated like milk-machines. Whether it's psychological or not, the milk and cream definitely tastes fresher and cleaner to me than anything else on the shelves of your local grocery store.
Where do you source your ingredients from?
The milk and cream are from Harmony Organics, which is based in Listowel, Ontario. The organic eggs are from Our Father's Farm in Dundas, and come from pastured chickens. Other ingredients, such as the organic cane sugar and cocoa powders are from La Siembra (Coco Camino.) Chocolate and vanilla is from Chocosol Traders, which is based in Toronto. They are an extremely ethically-conscious company which deals directly with individual farmers in Mexico to source their rich-tasting cacao beans, as well as other local products like cinnamon and vanilla. Chocosol processes the cacao themselves in their Toronto kitchen into all kinds of great products, including the chocolate I use. The best part about working right at the Ottawa Street Farmers' Market is that I'm surrounded by locally grown produce, so I can use fresh, seasonal fruits and herbs right from there!
Your flavours are not run-of-the-mill. Where do you draw inspiration from?
Every time my boyfriend and I travel, we make it a goal to hit up every local artisan ice cream shop we can find. Italy is filled with amazing (and not so amazing) gelato. New York has tons of cool places, like Cones in Soho, and San Francisco has Humphrey Slocombe. I get inspiration from everywhere. Sometimes I just start with an ingredient, like fresh peaches, and just think about all the great desserts I've ever had with peaches in them and then try to work that into an ice cream flavour. The Vanilla Salted Pretzel actually came from a delicious soft-serve ice cream that I had at Momofuku in New York last year. Their recipe involved things like cream cheese and gelatin, which I didn't want to use, so I just made up my own version and then threw in some homemade chocolate chip cookies to make it taste like a chocolate-covered pretzel. Worked out pretty well!
Which is your personal favourite?
So far, the Vanilla Salted Pretzel! The dark chocolate made with Chocosol chocolate is pretty incredible, too.
What is the most unusual ice cream flavour you have encountered?
I had a sweet corn gelato in New York last year that was fantastic! It sounds so weird, but tasted delicious. The girl who served us was from Brazil, as is the owner of the shop, and apparently corn ice cream is the most popular flavour there.
Favourite cookbook for recipes?
David Leibovitz's book "Perfect Scoop" is great, and so is another one called "Scoop." That one is a collection of ice cream recipes from the best parlours in the US. The only drag about that book is that about half of the recipes contain cornstarch and corn syrup as substitutes for eggs. Those are ingredients that I don't use. But it's still great as a source of inspiration for my own corn-free versions.
Any collaborations in the future with other local businesses?
I have had quite a few businesses approach me about wholesale opportunities, as well as things like special events. There seem to be a lot of opportunities out there. It's just a matter of working out the logistics of being able to produce a handmade artisan product on a larger scale and the challenge of actually turning a profit. Making the choice to use both organic and local ingredients was one that I absolutely had to make for my own piece of mind, despite the high cost, so I have to figure out whether I can actually make a profit. Fortunately, people are more educated these days about the differences in quality and price of buying organic, so people have been very supportive so far. Right now, I am loving the small-batch, artisan nature of this, but I also love the idea of sharing a product that I'm so proud of with a larger number of people, so we'll see what happens.
When you aren't making ice cream you are _____.
Trying not to eat it all….