For those who’re an ice cream aficionado, you’ve in all probability encountered Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, obtainable on-line and in shops nationwide. Chances are high you’ve additionally heard concerning the firm’s newest internet-breaking taste: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. This previous July, individuals took to social media to share their “over the moon” pleasure, and regardless of some customers expressing reservations concerning the unconventional mixture, the limited-edition pints bought out in an hour.
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Ben Van Leeuwen, who began the corporate with co-founders Pete Van Leeuwen and Laura O’Neill in 2008 out of a butter-yellow truck in New York Metropolis, has been enthusiastic about experimenting with taste from the start. A number of the firm’s hottest choices embody Honeycomb, chock stuffed with caramel sweet fairly than honey such as you would possibly guess, and Earl Gray Tea, which boasts natural Rishi Tea hand-harvested within the centuries-old tea tree forests of the Yunnan province of China.
That final one caught my eye a few years in the past on the Westside Market a number of blocks from my house. I really like London fog (Earl Gray tea, milk and vanilla syrup) and anticipated the black tea and citrus to pair properly with the creamy base. These expectations had been exceeded after I tried the primary spoonful and located the Earl Gray taste well-balanced and candy — no lingering bitterness or unusual aftertaste such as you would possibly count on from an ice cream that will get its main taste from black tea leaves and bergamot oil.
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Naturally, I used to be excited after I had a chance to talk with the grasp taste creator himself and proceed my ice-cream-tasting journey, which, courtesy of Van Leeuwen, concerned an assortment of classics like Vanilla, Chocolate and Sicilian Pistachio, and authentic standouts like Honeycomb and Oat Milk Brown Sugar Crunch (Van Leeuwen affords an intensive vegan line).
Though every taste satisfies a distinct craving, all of them replicate Van Leeuwen’s dedication to the “good things” — easy elements with names you possibly can truly pronounce. Ben Van Leeuwen notes that the model doesn’t use stabilizers and even “pure flavors,” these clear, lab-made liquids with a synthetic style.
However simply as essential as taste — if no more so — is the ice cream’s texture itself. Van Leeuwen and I began our dialogue with a deep dive into what provides Van Leeuwen ice cream its creamy, toothsome texture. The key? Egg yolks.
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“The cream gained’t provide the toothsomeness; the egg yolks provide the toothsomeness”
“The explanation we use so many egg yolks is as a result of it adjustments the feel,” Van Leeuwen says. “So it provides an extremely thick, toothsome texture. Once you’re making ice cream, you’re utilizing cream, which has plenty of fats, and that provides you with creaminess, however the cream gained’t provide the toothsomeness; the egg yolks provide the toothsomeness. So it emulsifies and offers the product slightly little bit of solidness and chew, and we love that.”
Most ice lotions in the marketplace don’t include greater than 1.3% egg yolk, and those who do have to be labeled “French” or “custard.” Van Leeuwen’s ice lotions vary from 5% to eight%, incomes it its “French” designation.
The excessive egg-yolk content material was a really aware choice, one the co-founders arrived at about 15 years in the past once they had been nonetheless experimenting with texture at dwelling. “We made ice cream out of cookbooks like On Meals and Cooking by Harold McGee and Thomas Keller’s books, they usually all had a ton of egg yolks,” Van Leeuwen says. “We tried these crème anglaise, type of traditional vanilla ice lotions, and we had been like, ‘Oh my gosh, that is so totally different,’ so significantly better than something we had been having in the marketplace. So we mentioned, ‘Why can’t we do that at scale?’”
The trio first tried single-note flavors, which might guarantee the feel took middle stage and permit them to get it good. Some early experiments included pistachio, ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. “Beginning with these quite simple flavors compelled us to obsess over the feel,” Van Leeuwen says. “So with out inclusions, while you’re consuming, you’re solely going to consider the feel and the flavour and the way that single ingredient is coming by way of.”
Having tried Van Leeuwen’s vanilla, chocolate and pistachio flavors, I can attest to the early experiments’ success first-hand. Not solely do the top-quality elements — assume cold-ground Tahitian vanilla beans, Michel Cluizel’s ultra-high cocoa butter chocolate, and pistachios sourced from the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily — give them a wealthy, genuine taste, however the consistency can be on one other degree: clean and thick with the solidity Van Leeuwen mentions, that almost-chew.
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“We found that significantly our market within the U.S. liked having chunks of their ice cream”
Quickly Van Leeuwen was able to attempt his hand at extra unorthodox flavors. “One in every of our first out of the strange mixtures was a turmeric ice cream with heritage coconut sugar shortbread sandwiched with house-made espresso caramel,” Van Leeuwen says. “We bought natural turmeric, we peeled it in-house and blended it totally into what we name the vegan custard, which is coconut, cashews, cocoa butter, the fats from chocolate and coconut oil. So it made this good yellow colour.
“It’s humorous as a result of should you inform individuals there’s turmeric in ice cream, they’re often shocked and assume they’re going to hate it,” he continues, “however it’s truly a brilliant delicate taste, significantly recent turmeric is absolutely, actually delicate.”
Though individuals would possibly not have discovered turmeric ice cream as off-putting because it may need initially sounded to them, the distinctive mixture was finally a flop, and vanilla out-sold it. However generally, Van Leeuwen admits, a taste is solely higher in idea than in execution. Van Leeuwen counts licorice, tarragon and a peach habanero sorbet, which his co-founders instructed him tasted like salsa, amongst his taste failures. He additionally reveals that flavors that incorporate nuts and caffeine are usually tougher to maneuver.
However early obstacles had been no match for the Van Leeuwen group’s want to place out flavors that defy — and exceed — buyer expectations. And, regardless of bringing quite a few novel flavors to market, there’s one key factor that’s oft-repeated in Van Leeuwen’s creations.
“We found that significantly our market within the U.S. liked having chunks of their ice cream,” Van Leeuwen says. “When there are chunks within the ice cream, you’ll begin consuming, and also you’ll get a bit, and also you’ll be like, ‘Okay, I’m going to maintain consuming till I get another chunk.’ And then you definately’ve eaten the entire pint. So we thought we might promote extra ice cream by including chunks.”
The chunkiest taste I attempted occurred to be the Oat Milk Brown Sugar Crunch, which folds cookie dough, brownies and candied oat clusters into an oat milk muscovado brown sugar base. Scrumptious to make certain, and though it doesn’t have a creaminess-factor equivalent to that of its dairy counterparts, the coconut cream and oil give it its personal distinctive one — with a nutty sweetness that helps the mouth-watering mix-ins pop.
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“It’s doing issues that sound fairly primary, however doing them one of the simplest ways potential, not solely with the most effective elements, but in addition with no pointless ones”
Whereas Van Leeuwen at all times strives to assume exterior of the pint (he’s presently toying with the thought of a fermented inexperienced tea taste with jasmine ice cream and cardamom biscuits), there’s after all at all times a extra sensible advertising angle to think about as properly.
“The 1st step is determining what’s going to promote,” Van Leeuwen says. “So, peanut butter, fudge, cookies. However then if we are saying, ‘Okay, we’ll make peanut-butter-fudge-cookie ice cream,’ it’s how can we make the chocolate that we’re utilizing tremendous distinct? And meaning sourcing. Small farms in Ecuador and getting that type of earthy taste of the chocolate, which we expect can pique individuals’s palates slightly bit and excite them with one thing they haven’t had. And getting solely Virginia peanuts. So it’s doing issues that sound fairly primary, however doing them one of the simplest ways potential, not solely with the most effective elements, but in addition with no pointless ones.”
Van Leeuwen’s model collaborations enable the ice cream firm to provide you with a few of its most attention-grabbing flavors — simply because the partnership with Kraft did earlier this yr. When the mac-and-cheese firm approached Van Leeuwen with the thought, he noticed the potential for large success.
“My preliminary response was that is going to be completely superior,” Van Leeuwen says. “Individuals are going to get tremendous enthusiastic about this, however we’ll must make our personal mix as a result of I doubt they’re labeled as clear. So I instantly checked out the label, and I used to be so shocked and excited that it was a very clear label.”
Although Van Leeuwen acknowledged the Kraft taste’s potential to interrupt the web — which it subsequently did (there have been even reports of the site crashing due to the high demand) — he additionally had sufficient flavor-experimentation expertise to know that pairing Kraft’s tacky macaroni taste with Van Leeuwen ice cream was a sensible choice.
“We knew it will work very well in ice cream,” Van Leeuwen says. “After which we examined it instantly, in order that was confirmed. Folks assume it sounds tremendous unusual, however cultured milk, which could be cream cheese, could be bitter cream, is absolutely good in ice cream. It isn’t a surprising, bizarre factor. So it is principally like cream cheese ice cream, that are our cheesecake bases or crème fraîche ice cream, which style superior.”
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Van Leeuwen additionally takes half in month-to-month collaborations with native manufacturers, which prior to now have included Wölffer Property Vineyard for a Vegan Raspberry Rosé Sorbet, Kettl Tea for Matcha Inexperienced Tea and Kings County Distillery for Bourbon Cherries Jubilee.
“Renovation is consistently difficult our processes and recipes”
Innovation is at all times on the desk at Van Leeuwen, however even when the model appears to strike taste gold, prefer it did with its bestseller Honeycomb, as an illustration, the group by no means stops contemplating the way it would possibly make an important taste even higher. “There’s innovation and there is renovation,” Van Leeuwen says. “Innovation is creating new flavors. Renovation is consistently difficult our processes and recipes. Perhaps 10 years in the past, individuals appreciated delicate chocolate; perhaps now they like extra intense chocolate.
“In order that’s a part of R&D that is not as thrilling sounding,” Van Leeuwen continues, “however it’s actually, actually essential to always say, ‘Is the best way we’re making the Honeycomb one of the simplest ways, although it is our bestseller and folks adore it? Can we make it even higher? Can we cook dinner the custard at a barely higher temperature? Or can we reduce the sugar slightly bit?’ So issues like which are a giant a part of the inventive course of too, although they do not sound as inventive.”
On the finish of the day, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream simply desires to maintain its clients completely happy and coming again for extra. I, for one, positively can be.
“The target is making actually yummy stuff that individuals need to eat,” Van Leeuwen says. “And I believe as we turn out to be an increasing number of skilled with ice lotions, as a result of that’s what we do, we attempt to take away our ego from the method of innovation. It is extra essential to make actually yummy stuff than to attempt to be fascinating.”