Jeni's is to ice cream as wine is to grape juice. While wine is fundamentally the same as grape juice, just liquid derived from a grape, no one grabs a plastic bottle of wine from the vending machine for lunch or pours a tumbler of wine for a toddler. No grape juice connoisseurs evaluate a poetic description of the flavors before buying a bottle and no one holds expensive events centered around exploring grape juice's scents and tastes. In much the same way, Jeni's, in a simple world, is ice cream, yet it is anything but. Jeni's is not to be piled onto a warm slice of apple pie, dolloped into root beer, or doused in Hershey's syrup. I find that to be best appreciated, Jeni's should be served in small quantities: one spoonful in a tiny bowl or a frozen bite of ice cream licked off of a single spoon.
The strange thing about my relationship with Jeni's ice cream is that despite the number of pints of Jeni's that I have helped to consume, I have never actually been inside one of their stores. I know the ice cream only from afar because of the pints that my mom has tucked inside a cooler and driven home from Columbus, Ohio over the years. As my sister and I treasured each spoonful of these eagerly-awaited treats, my love for Jeni's grew into a passion.
This past weekend, my mom came home with a special load of Jeni's. Instead of a boring cooler filled with ice packs, she came bearing a styrofoam cooler with a large chunk of dry ice that cooled a total of six pints of ice cream. This fortune was stored away in the freezer for a party of my mom's, but even though I missed the get-together, I still managed to try all of each of the six amazing flavors. After our Munster debate meet, I brought two friends over for a brief ice cream taste test. While most teenagers would be watching tv, Shriya, Alex and I were sampling one flavor at a time. And I must say, they were the two best people with whom I could share my treasure, never complaining or making fun of my mild obsession.
Of these six specific flavors, the only one that I had already tried was Gravel Road, a delicious blend of caramel, salt, and almond flavors. The next was Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate. I was a little worried that for a dark chocolate lover like me, this would be too sweet and creamy, but that wasn't the case. The ice cream was perfectly creamy and smooth, but it was mixed in with real dark chocolate that balanced out the sweetness. The Grapefruit Hibiscus sorbet was the fan favorite, although it wasn't my personal favorite. It was the only non-dairy one in this batch. That's fine with me, because my favorites are the rich, decadent ones, but sometimes a lighter sorbet is perfect. According to Alex, eating the sorbet was exactly like eating a frozen grapefruit.
Below is the Star Anise with Candied Fennel, one of the more gentle flavors that we chose, topped with extra candied fennel seeds for crunch and color. I love the idea of licorice ice cream. It makes so much sense, yet I've never seen it done before. My two favorites were the most surprising flavors of the batch in that if you heard their names, ice cream wouldn't pop into your head. The first is Olive Oil with Sea Salted Pepitas. Olive oil ice cream is apparently unpalatable to some people, but it makes me feel like a Greek goddess being fed spoonfuls decadent, divine ice cream. The second is Oakvale Young Gouda with Vodka-Plumped Cranberries. Gouda, one of my favorite cheeses, is a gentle flavor that blends in to the cream at first, then develops as a flavor of its own. The cranberries manage to be juicy, not dry, and extremely delicious.
Six flavors, all uniquely delicious. And because my descriptions can never match the real thing, look at the seasonal and signature flavors on Jeni's website. Cocoa Zin, anyone? Blackstrap Praline? I can't wait for Mama Mia's next delivery of hand-picked Jeni's flavors.