Artisan, organic ice cream
Siren call: The Penny Ice Creamery’s chocolate sundae topped with strawberries and toasted marshmallow fluff.
Photographs by Lane Johnson
The cool, creamy sweetness startles your tongue with sparkles of exotic flavors, then slides smoothly into the faraway corners of your mouth. Your eyelids close half-mast and your head tilts back, while your lips slur the words “ohmygodthisisgood.” People are staring, but who cares? This is no 31 Flavors; it’s frozen euphoria.
When the sweet tooth calls out for satiation, ice cream is the one dessert that almost everybody can agree on, although experts say that the majority of ice cream eaters are kids under 12 and adults over 45. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a few ice cream producers are now focusing solely on discriminating buyers by making an all-organic version of the well-loved concoction.
In 2010, renowned San Francisco pastry chef Kendra Baker and her friend Zachary Davis, who was finishing his Green MBA program at Dominican University, decided they wanted to start a business in Santa Cruz. But they wanted to sell something that wasn’t currently available in the area. After doing some research, they found “there was no organic, locally based, really artisan ice cream being done in Santa Cruz. We were both kind of surprised when we realized that,” Davis says.
Baker and Davis decided they would keep their product simple by making ice cream from only organic milk, cream, sugar, and eggs. They named their company The Penny Ice Creamery in honor of Carlo Gatti, who brought ice cream to the masses in 19th century London by selling it for a penny.
Fresh from his Green MBA program, Davis was “steeped in the idea of business as the engine for transforming our planet and our society for good, rather than businesses taking advantage of people and resources to maximize profits,” he says.
To that end, The Penny Ice Creamery’s storefront, located at 913 Cedar Street in Santa Cruz, was remodeled according to eco-friendly Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principles. The shop uses only 100 percent organic ingredients and 100 percent recycled and bio-compostable paper products, packaging, and take-out containers. All bio-compostable waste, along with eggshells and other organic waste from ice cream production, are given to a local farm.
Good business, Davis says, “can actually have a regenerative effect.” When his company buys from local, organic farmers and dairy producers, it helps those businesses thrive, he says. In turn, those organic farmers help The Penny Ice Creamery succeed by creating the ingredients necessary to make their specialty products. Davis believes the more that businesses become interdependent on one another for local and organic goods, the more organic food becomes available and affordable.
Baker says that going back to basics is what makes their business successful. “It’s just the basic raw ingredients—cream, milk, eggs, and sugar—all of which are certified organic. And the flavors are not purchased in a bottle, they’re the real deal. We get fresh mint from the farm or foraged, we get fresh strawberries. There are no purees, no concentrates,” she says.
Customers at The Penny Ice Creamery’s shop can indulge in unusual flavors such as Chamomile Sorbet, Bourbon Bacon Chocolate, Kumquat Pistachio, and Strawberry Pink Peppercorn, but repeat customers notice that their favorite flavors come and go.
“There’s no rhyme or reason. The season dictates the flavors,” Baker says.
The Penny Ice Creamery caters to those with special dietary needs with at least two vegan or dairy-free options. They also make their own cones from scratch, using “leftover” ingredients.
“I developed this cone recipe to help us utilize our egg whites,” Baker says. “We use the yolks in the ice cream, and then we have quite a lot of egg whites left over… The two go hand in hand. You’re getting all of your egg needs for the day.”
North of the Golden Gate, Three Twins Organic Ice Cream also lives by the motto of bettering the planet through organic ice cream. In 2005, owner Neal Gottlieb had a single ice cream scoop shop in San Rafael. Today, Three Twins has a large Petaluma production plant as well as Gottlieb’s three scoop shops in Napa, San Francisco, and the original San Rafael location. The company’s name came from the days when Gottlieb, his twin brother, and his brother’s fiancé, who was also a twin, all shared a household; thus, three twins living together.
Three Twins manufactures all its ice cream at its 4,200-square-foot Petaluma facility, which Gottlieb says is the largest dedicated organic ice cream factory in the United States. Three Twins uses only organic ingredients, which come from local dairies and farmers. The sustainable practice of recycling is a key strategy in Gottlieb’s business plan; the organic cream used in Three Twins ice cream is a byproduct of another local business, Wallaby Organic Yogurt of American Canyon.
“At Wallaby Yogurt, they’re making all low-fat and non-fat yogurt, so they end up with a lot of milk fat that they have to sell. We buy it from them. It comes from a series of six or seven local, organic farms,” Gottlieb says.
Like The Penny Ice Creamery, Three Twins uses only compostable serving dishes, spoons, and napkins, and composts all of its organic waste. The company also purchases renewable energy certificates to offset its emissions from using electricity. And as a member of 1% for the Planet, Three Twins donates at least 1 percent of its sales to earth-related nonprofit organizations.
In addition to the timeless standards of vanilla and chocolate, Three Twins creates signature ice cream flavors like Strawberry Je Ne Sais Quoi (touched with a splash of balsamic vinegar), and Lemon Cookies (with vanilla sandwich cookies crushed into the ice cream). Customers who can’t get to one of Gottlieb’s North Bay ice cream shops can buy take-home containers at Whole Foods Markets and the Berkeley Farmers’ Market.
Both Three Twins and The Penny Ice Creamery make their own ice cream bases from scratch. Neither of the companies adds stabilizers, a type of natural “gum” that most ice cream manufacturers use to keep ice crystals from forming. According to Gottlieb, stabilizers have a bad effect on texture, destroying “that old-fashioned creaminess.” He says, “If you’re making nice, dense ice cream, and if you’re careful how you fix it, you don’t need stabilizers.”
Besides outstanding flavor, what all this means to the consumer is that organic ice cream is best eaten soon after it’s made. But if you’re picking up a carton of Three Twins or stopping by The Penny Ice Creamery, that isn’t likely to be a problem.
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