Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wheeler's Black Label Vegan Ice Cream Reviewed by Conscious Kitchen!

Emilie from The Conscious Kitchen has given us a wonderful review on her blog - check it out! Thanks Emilie!

Wheeler's Black Label Vegan Ice Cream, Brownie Sundae Edition

Those reading The Conscious Kitchen this summer might know that in May I came into ossession of a very fine commercial grade ice cream maker and promptly got obsessed with ice cream. As much as I love to be involved in the process of making my own food though, there may soon be a very attractive sale on a commercial grade ice cream maker since I can't imagine ever needing it again now that there is Wheeler's Black Label Vegan Ice Cream. I know I tend toward the effusive when it comes to talking about desserts in general, but let me tell you this is highly delicious stuff.

Wheeler's Black Label Vegan Ice Creams just debuted last month at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival and if there's anyone who knows from vegan things taking over the world, it's Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who upon tasting some of Wheeler's offerings appointed them grand high rulers of the Festival. "The best ice cream you’ve (n)ever had," she said, before describing the perfection of this ice cream's texture and taste, at which point vegans the world over burst into tears for lack of a carton of Wheeler's Black Label Vegan Ice Cream to stick their faces in. First stop New England though and the world will just have to wait to be conquered by Wheeler's.

I would advocate that they work out an appropriate face to carton of delicious vegan ice cream ratio for the greater Boston area (I'd say 1:2 is a good starting place) before spreading their goods out across the country, but Wheeler's is already working on getting into a number of restaurants all over New England and throughout New York City. With any luck though they will also soon get approval to move forward on their Kendall Square, Cambridge ice cream shop. Until then though, access to their ice creams is limited to select number of restaurants, which they list on their blog. This being the digital age however, and me being the lucky recipient of a few tasting pints, you may continue to feast your eyes on Wheeler's through the pictures of a few brownie sundaes that I recently got to put together with their ice cream. If it were in my power to enable lickable blogging technology for this post, I surely would, but alas, you will have to fire up your imaginations because although you certainly may lick your screens, it won't do you any good.

This is Wheeler's Piña Colada ice cream, which has the same lusciously smooth and dense texture as all of their other ice creams and features a bright pineapple flavor with an alcoholic rum tang. The coconut flavor is really very light in this ice cream, which is nice and lets the heady tropical pineapple come through, making it perhaps more like the original Piña Colada drink, which was first made without the coconut cream that is a standard feature of it now. The drink was first served with strained (colada) pineapple (piña), lime, sugar, ice and rum, how the coconut came to be added, I don't know, but I prefer it without even though I like coconut, a lot.

I topped an intensely dark brownie with the piña colada ice cream, some finely shaved coconut, lightly toasted cashews and pepitas, candied pineapple and thin slices of candied kumquat that I brought back from Barcelona. To finish, I gave it a dollop of whipped Soya Too heavy cream and drizzled some warm rum fig sauce that I made with cooked down Turkish brown figs and cane sugar. There was a lot going on, but all of the components came together like notes on a dynamic chord, some high tones, some low, but all well suited to one another with the light sweet-sour of the pineapple echoing in the intense sour-sweet of the kumquat, the rich coconut and nuts giving different levels of crunch and the honey warmth of the fig and rum melding with the rum in the ice cream. I did these brownies with Scharffen Berger chocolate too so they had a lot of tropical fruit tones, which made for a nice pairing.

Wheeler's makes a point of the fact that they use a means of producing ice cream that was developed in 1832 by Augustus Jackson. Jackson is sometimes credited as the inventor of ice cream, but in fact, the African-American former White House chef is responsible not for inventing ice cream, but for inventing the modern method of manufacturing ice cream, uniquely employing ice mixed with salt to lower the temperature of his ingredients and provide greater control over the freezing process. He never applied for a patent but moved to Philadelphia where he became rather wealthy through distributing tin cans of his ice creams to ice cream parlors. His successes with ice cream earned him the title of the "father of ice cream," though it appears to actually have been a woman, a freed slave in Wilmington by the name of Sallie Shadd, who in 1813 first popularized ice cream in America through her catering business, which ultimately supplied ice creams to the Madison White House, where the First Lady was a serious fan.

However they do it though, the result is certainly unique and yields a perfectly even, delicately meltable ice cream. It's not just the texture, the flavor too catapults Wheeler's to the head of the vegan ice cream class. In this espresso ice cream (pictured above), the bold coffee aroma hits you like a trickle of steam off of a freshly brewed espresso with a small spoonful of golden-brown sugar in the raw stirred in. There's a lovely crunch in it from the roasted coffee beans and a deep dark coffee flavor throughout. I paired this with a Frangelico glazed brownie, paper thin toasted hazelnut shavings, dark chocolate shavings, a hazelnut cream sauce and whipped cream. Hazelnut, chocolate and coffee has to be one of my favorite flavor combinations ever.

A classic challenger for favorite flavor combo though would have to be chocolate mint. The bright, clean minty scent of Wheeler's white chocolate chip mint ice cream made me a little nervous at first since it just about cleared out my fall allergy afflicted sinuses. I was afraid it would have an over-bearing artificial mint flavor, but the taste is subtler than the smell. It's strong, no doubt, but has real dimension and complexity, not the flat chemical taste of most artificial flavoring. The white chocolate chips didn't come through too much in my sample, but I remedied that by adding a handful of white chocolate, as well as some chopped chocolate mint candy to the sundae. A plain dark chocolate sauce made with my favorite chocolate bar of the moment, Dagoba's single origin Peruvian Milagros 68%, a warm, velvety floral bar with a soft dark chocolate flavor, went well to round out the bold flavors of this sundae.

I scooped this out with two different sizes of ice cream scoop to get some visual contrast on this very geometrically precise looking sundae. I can't be sure, but my ice cream scoops are probably derived at least in part from the design ofAlfred L. Cralle, an African-American inventor, who applied for patent number 576,395 in 1897 for his ice cream scoop. His designs are still in common use today.

There, I thought a close up on a corner of the decadently rich and crackly-topped brownie might help you deal with the brain freeze you might have from having devoured so much ice cream, even in digital form. Actually, only about 30% of the population seems to get brain freeze, also known as "ice cream headaches," from eating ice cream. Brain freeze is caused when a very cold substance comes in contact with the roof of a warm mouth. The shocking change in temperature causes the body to vasoconstrict (reducing the diameter of blood vessels) and limiting blood flow in order to minimize heat loss. All of this activity gets transmitted to the brain as pain, thus ice cream headache.

Despite my own brain freeze/ice cream headaches during these brownie sundae experimentations, I was compelled to go on, though I depleted my supply of Wheeler's. It seemed that some comparison sundaes were in order. Purely Decadent Soy Delicous Ice Cream had been my favorite commercially available ice cream and there happened to be a pint of Turtle Tracks in the freezer. Turtle Tracks is a rich vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered chunks of nut and caramel. In keeping with my recent experimentations with caramel, this seemed to call out for a Caramel Apple Sundae.

A chocolate sauce on the plate, a brownie, two scoops of Turtle Tracks, a mound of whipped cream, a generous spoonful of heavily spiced roasted apple sauce, slivers of a nutmeg infused caramel apple and chocolate shavings completed this sundae. I knew the flavors of chocolate and nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon go together really well and that those spices paired with apple work wonders too, my only concern was the apple with the chocolate. Surprisingly, they go together quite nicely. The tart juicy apple and buttery spiced caramel were nice foils for the deep chocolate flavor and a good point of contrast in terms of textures: a crisp bite from the apple, chewiness from the caramel, and meltingly moist brownie.

The apple wasn't for everyone though, so I did a simple chocolate caramel sundae with just a tiny twist in the nutmeg that was infused in the caramel and tiny bit of freshly ground spice over the chocolate shavings. These sundaes were enjoyable and dynamic, but lacked the smooth, fresh quality that the Wheeler's brought. I never before would have described Purely Decadent as "icy" but after the Wheeler's you really could taste the ice crystals and the slight wateriness.

And finally, I got just a tiny bit of the batch of butternut ice cream that Wheeler's whipped up. It was more butterscotch than butternut, but that is a-okay by me. Lacking enough to do a sundae with it, I sandwiched it with my favorite cookie of the moment, a fresh ginger cookie that is really soft and spicy, a good fall complement to the butternut. If I had more of the butternut, I would have given this sandwich a much thicker layer and let it set up longer to firm, but as it was this was just a thin hint of the delicious possibilities.

There's a popular understanding in Boston that as a metro-area we are tops in the States when it comes to consumption rates for ice cream. I can't actually find any verification of this, though I did come across this snip from a Pheonix (our alternative weekly) interview with Ben and Jerry from, uh, Ben and Jerry's:

Q: Is it true that Boston has one of the highest ice-cream-consumption rates in the country?

Ben: I believe that’s correct.

Q: Why do you think that is?

B: Why do you think that is, Jerry?

Jerry: I’ve never had any idea why that is.

All of which is to say, when Wheeler's opens its doors in Cambridge, we will lay waste to their supply of vegan ice cream. The Pumpkin, the White Russian, the Peanut Butter, their Classic Vanilla, the Rum Raisin, and the Espresso, we will eat it all and love it.

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All words and photos courtesy of Emilie from The Conscious Kitchen.


Vegyogini said...

We love vegan ice cream in Los Angeles, so it'd be really nice if you let us have some, too! :)

Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

Her review makes me want to try it even more! Need anymore reviews on blogs? ;)

Wheeler's Black Label Vegan Ice Cream said...

That review was fantastic, for sure! And Melisser, when we get ready to hit your end of the country, we'll certainly remember you when it comes to getting the word out on the West Coast. :)

Ashasarala said...

Emilie is my hero. And so are you guys! I've only had a taste, but I want more!

Amy said...


Veganista said...

I saw this review at the Conscious Kitchen, and the photos made my jaw drop. Backing that up were Emilie's wonderful descriptions.

So ok, I know it's a lot to ask, but please, pretty please, see if you can sell your product in Australia? :) Ideally where I live--Canberra. (It's small, but it is the national capital!)

Wheeler's Black Label Vegan Ice Cream said...

RE: Distribution:

We're working on it, guys! See, we at Wheeler's are an eccentric group who love ice cream. We are completely independent and no one in our offices wears a suit. Thus, the process of getting our product in stores in restaurants may be a bit slow. We're sorry for the delay, but remember, we're an independent business dedicated to vegan deliciousness, and we promise it'll be worth the wait.