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Review: Chicago Luxury Ice Cream Festival

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Sep 8, 2009 7:00PM

It was sometime after 8 Friday night at the Chicago Luxury Ice Cream Festival when Benjy texted me from one of the many long lines formed inside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The text read, "This is like going to Great America, only you have a small bite of ice cream waiting for you at the end instead of getting on a roller coaster."

That summed up the festival in a nutshell. For an inaugural festival, a surprising number of people turned out and cursed under their breath as they queued up for a sample of artisan small batch ice creams. The longest lines were found on the second floor of the museum. Clandestino supper club chef/owner Efrain Cuevas was serving homemade chocolate and piquin chile ice cream as fast as he could scoop it into cups. Cuevas used 95 percent bittersweet chocolate in his mix and the piquin chiles gave it a spice akin to cinnamon. At the other end of the hall John and Mary Mayer of Mayfell Farms in Avery, WI (near the Minnesota border) received heaps of praise for their three sheep's milk ice creams. A cooperative dairy farm, the Mayers and partner Mark Fellner keep a flock of Friesian and Friesian-cross sheep which have been selected for their milking and mothering abilities. The sheep are fed a steady diet of grass, alfalfa hay and a little bit of grain and, while they aren't organically certified, no genetically modified grain is used in the feed.

The other standout ice creams were from Blue Marble Family Dairy Farm, which doesn't make ice cream for retail sale. Instead, owner Nick Kirch had 4-6 flavors made specifically for the festival by Hot Chocolate owner Mindy Segal as a way of promoting his creams. Segal used both whole milk and heavy cream in creating flavors flavors such as s'mores and Three Floyds' Moloko milk stout to a vanilla and duck egg ice cream that was worth cutting in line for. that is, if Blue Marble had anything resembling a line. Nestled with Bobtail Ice Cream practically under a stairwell all one had to do was walk up to their table.