Salt & Straw is the new Supreme. Forget the box logo hat, the true hypebeasts are all about that Buttermilk Pancake pint. Just ask anyone who’s seen the crowds lining the curb outside of a scoop shop in NYC, PDX, or LA, resigned to 30 minutes of small talk before they can finally cop a double cone. A Nike x BAPE collab has nothing on Häagen-Dazs’s Spirits series — with mashup flavors like “Stout, Chocolate, Pretzel Crunch.” You think there’s a Yeezy colorway as decadent as Tillamook’s Double Nutty Peanut Butter? Forget it, fam.
Okay, fine, that’s an exaggeration. But just barely. Though no creamery has actually emulated Supreme or BAPE’s scarcity model, they do release new flavors every season. And summer is the industry’s yearly high-water mark.
Like everything in the food world, the ice cream game has been forever changed by shrinking economies of scale and the rapidly developing American palate. 20 years ago, you could find three or four brands and 20 or so flavors in the ice cream aisle — most of the diversity coming from Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs. Rainbow sherbet was considered “out there.” These days, your local grocer probably highlights ten companies and at least 60 varieties, if not more. Savory-leaning flavors, once rare, are now ubiquitous.
To help you sort through your nearly-endless choices hitting stores summer, I spent two nights last week testing the 40 or so premier ice cream releases for Summer ’19. The pints I tested are either available nationally (Halo Top, McConnell’s) or they have an easy system for sending products around the country (Salt & Straw, Coolhaus). I didn’t mess with cheaper ice creams known to have a bad “mouthfeel” or texture thanks to preservatives or anything that I thought would be an unbalanced, sticky sweet sugar bomb. Sorry, Kroger brand — my ranking, my rules.
Those parameters left Ben & Jerry’s, Coolhaus, Häagen-Dazs, Halo Top, Magnum, McConnell’s, Salt & Straw, Talenti, and Tillamook battling for the title of “Best Flavor of Summer 2019.” Here are the standouts — presented with very legit awards invented by me amidst a dairy and sugar-induced haze.
THE “NOTHING SHOULD SOUND THIS AWFUL WHILE TASTING THIS GOOD” AWARD GOES TO… “MUSHROOM MUDDY BUDDIES” BY SALT & STRAW
I’ve been following Salt & Straw since their first food truck opened in my home city of Portland and here’s my theory: As the competition caught on to the fact that ice cream eating food obsessives liked experimentation, the growing brand had to push further into the frontier. Sometimes into the realms of all-out weird. On occasion they go too far — there’s a “Berries, Beans & BBQ Sauce” flavor this year that failed to strike a chord with me — but other times they hit it out of the park.
“Mushroom Muddy Buddies” falls into the latter bucket. The name sounds… extremely poo-adjacent to me. But you quickly forget all that when you taste this flavor. The “Muddy Buddies” that the name is referencing is basically Chex Mix with peanut butter and chocolate. The website notes that this is also called “puppy chow” and “monkey munch” both of which would have made for more appetizing names, but whatever. The mix is then heightened with honey, butter, and **checks notes** sherry candied mushrooms.
Sounds weird, right? Doesn’t matter, it tastes amazing. The flavor is sweet, actually sweeter than many Salt & Straw flavors, but earthen in a way I loved. There’s a ton of umami here — which plays well with the richness of the cream (my best guess is that S & S uses about 70% cream and 30% whole milk in their base, which is high on the comparative scale). Here’s the coolest part: you don’t get even one degree of “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS DOING IN AN ICE CREAM?” effect, which sometimes happens in the era of hipster flavors.
Everything plays nicely together. It’s balanced and makes sense, in a weird sort of way.
THE FINAL SCOOP: Describe it to someone and then bet them ten bucks that they’ll actually love it. You’ll win.