For my ice cream business, I’ve chosen to go with an organic ice cream base made by Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn. An ice cream base is the beginning of your ice cream. It contains all the basic ingredients such as milk, cream and sugar, but does not contain any extra flavoring, such as vanilla or chocolate. The base itself also comes pasteurized, as specifically required by national law (all ice cream base for retail sale must be pasteurized. You can do this on your stove top as long as you don’t sell wholesale or you can purchase base from a company that pasteurizes it for you). The finished base is usually packaged in 2 or 3 gallon bags and most frequently arrives fresh though it can be frozen and dethawed when you're ready to use it.
Once I have my base, I portion it out (into three quart containers because of the constraints of my ice cream machine) and add flavors and ingredients to customize the base to my liking.
I keep getting asked why I am not making my own ice cream base from scratch, like most restaurants do. When I worked in a restaurant, I would combine the milk, cream, sugar, eggs and flavoring ingredients and cook the base on my own. So why not repeat this same process in a retail setting?
1. When a company like Blue Marble pasteurizes for you, they also homogenize the base. Homogenization creates a more stable emulsion in your ice cream by breaking down the fat particles into itsy bitsy pieces. That way, when you churn your ice cream, the fat particles are less likely to clump together and create a grainy texture. And a homogenizer is an extremely expensive piece of equipment and well out of reach for a start-up business like mine.
2. To make my own ice cream base in my shop would have been cost prohibitive for me. The main ingredient in ice cream is milk so I naturally think that all ice cream makers should use the highest quality milk possible (side note, if the store you buy ice cream from is not talking about where their dairy comes from, you have a problem. Don’t be fooled by words like “artisanal” or “hand-made.” ASK THEM WHERE THEIR DAIRY COMES FROM).
Blue Marble makes their base using grass-fed, organic dairy from organic farms in Maine. For me to buy grass-fed organic dairy to make my own base would have driven my food costs so high that I would not be able to actually pay my fixed costs to stay in business. I simply would not have been able to order enough bulk organic dairy to drive the overall cost down to where I could afford to use it.
3. I want to be a business woman, not just a chef. I know. All you cooks and chefs out their think that sounds sacrilegious. But since I am a small business, I will be taking care of marketing and promotion, book-keeping, inventory and ordering, hiring and employee training and much, much more. In other words, if I spend all my time making base, I will not have time to actually run the business. And yes, I could hire someone, but I am just starting out and have only so much money at this point. At least for now. I didn’t think this way originally, until I was able to speak with the culinary manager at Shake Shack and he asked me why I wasn’t going with a base so I could focus on actually running my business. Why, indeed…
And I’m in good company, as far as ice cream base is concerned. Bi-Rite creamery, the darling of the new wave ice cream scene, also uses a pre-made ice cream base from Strauss Organic Farms in California. They are just one of many.
I’m not saying that in the future, as my business grows, I won’t turn to making my own base. I would love to do that and, honestly, would have preferred to do so from the start (I am despotic in nature and would love nothing better than to control everything myself). With enough start-up capital it can be done successfully (check out the Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz, run by the amazingly talented Kendra Baker). But for now, using a pre-made base is the decision that makes the most business sense for my company.