Saturday, July 27, 2013

High Road Vanilla Fleur de Sel (An Ice Cream Review)

There are times when my naïveté leads me to buy a pint of ice cream, thinking it’s one thing, when in fact it’s something else. This happens to be the case with one of my most recent purchases from Whole Foods, High Road Vanilla Fleur de Sel. This time, I grabbed it thinking of caramel, because fleur de sel (sea salt) is a common ingredient in caramel (and, in fact, the base of Talenti’s famous Sea Salt Caramel gelato--so blame Talenti, they’ve corrupted me). And the picture on the front of the pint looked like brown sugar, which I could eat by the spoonful by itself. So I went for it.

On the inside it just looks like an innocent vanilla bean. I love when you can see the black specks, because that usually means it’s going to be good.

Now. Without reading the description, aside from knowing that it’s bourbon vanilla ice cream, my first impression was that it’s vanilla bean, or anyway something more than just vanilla. In fact I’m going to settle on French vanilla. I don’t drink, so I can’t attest to the bourbon part...but that could very well be the funky vibe I get at the very beginning of a bite. That’s gone, though, within seconds, and this becomes a very interesting, complex vanilla.

Farther down the pint and I don’t see the caramel I was expecting, so I go back to the description on the pint, particularly the part that states: “Here, we take two of our favorites - real Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla and Fleur de Sel - and make a French-style vanilla ice cream that’s anything but plain.”

Doh. Well, no wonder it tastes like French vanilla.

My brain just magically inserted caramel into this ice cream when there is none. In my defense, though, I do still feel slightly cheated because of that brown sugar on the packaging.

Having made that discovery, I focused more on the ice cream itself than what I had presume missing from the ice cream, and...I know it’s just vanilla and I’ve always been a mix-in fiend, but it’s good. Salty? Hmm, perhaps not so much.... But there are several layers of vanilla unfolding here; it’s something to be savored slowly as you let the flavor sink in. When I was a kid I used to LOVE French vanilla ice cream, and I still’s just that when I was a kid my ice cream exposure didn’t include Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen-Dazs, etc. and all the wild flavors out there.

Like its sibling French Toast, this ice cream has a bit of grit to it. There, I thought it might be from the cinnamon. Here, I could pretend it’s from the vanilla bean specks, but I think it’s really just their ice cream. But it works here, especially since it’s also really creamy. And, a lot like gelato, it’s ready to eat and soft straight from the freezer. It’s also not as dense as those premium brands, but I really don’t mind. I love the smooth ease with which my spoon carves out a dent.

It’s been a long time since I just had vanilla cream, sans chunks or swirls or what have you. The closest I’ve come is Talenti’s Argentine Caramel or Haagen-Dazs’ Dulce de Leche, but those had plenty of caramel flavor to keep me busy. There are times when it’s actually beneficial to judge a book by its (perhaps misleading) cover, and this was one of them. I now have a new appreciation for “plain” old vanilla.
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