Ice Creams for the Savory-Toothed

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In the mountains where I live, temperatures are still dipping below freezing at night. But the days are finally starting to reach the 70s, which has rekindled my seasonal ice cream infatuation with a vengeance. Forget plain vanilla and chocolate—yawn. (I do make an exception, however, for what may be the creamiest soft-serve in America, Donnelly's, at a former dairy farm near Saranac Lake, New York.) In my opinion, the kookier the flavor, the better.

So I was happy to see that Restaurants and Institutions magazine just named savory ice cream flavors as one of the top current ice cream trends. The article cited two South Carolina restaurants serving up experimental flavors: Carolina’s, in Charleston, which makes a smoked-honey ice cream, and Devereaux’s, which serves ice cream infused with black peppercorns and served alongside a goat-cheese cheesecake with red-wine syrup.

My first experience with savory ice creams was in the late 1980s, in a suburb of San Francisco, when a Filipino friend introduced me to cheese ice cream. It contained actual chunks of what appeared to be cheddar cheese, and it was neither particularly salty nor sweet. I tried it alongside a scoop of ube, or purple yam, ice cream, which was extremely sweet and delicious. My friend told me that Filipinos like to order the cheese ice cream to temper the sweetness of another flavor. I wasn't entirely sold on it at the time, but I'd be willing to try it again.

Since then, the best unusual ice cream flavor I've tried was avocado, at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, in New York City. It was slightly sweet, and had the silkiest, most luscious texture of any ice cream I've tasted. If I still lived in the city I would be working my way through their other intriguing flavors, like Zen Butter (I have no idea what that means). I'd be interested, if a little scared, to sample the Durian ice cream; I've never tasted this notoriously foul-smelling tropical fruit, though it is one of the few foods Andrew Zimmern, of the Travel Channel show "Bizarre Foods", couldn't stomach—and he's eaten rancid meat and maggot-infested cheese.

If you're in the New England area, check out one of the places suggested in Chow's Boston Digest. Pad thai? Maybe. I'm not too sure about clam chowder, though. No, wait, I am sure—that sounds atrocious.

While looking for pictures of quirky ice cream flavors, I found this savory borscht and dill ice cream, which actually sounds kind of great. In my food fantasies (which I am not talented enough of a cook to realize, unfortunately), I could also imagine a tahini ice cream, maybe even with bits of that hard sesame-toffee candy, or halvah (the fiberglass-textured kind often sold in Jewish delis).

What's the most unusual ice cream flavor you've tried?

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