We’ve sipped vinegar from the bottle, sampled mayos straight from the jar, and chowed down sauceless whole-wheat pastas. So for this issue’s Tasting Panel, we decided to reward ourselves with something sweet—chocolate ice cream. It’s summer after all, and chocolate ice cream is a great thing to have in the freezer to make milk shakes or ice cream sandwiches, or just to savor on its own.
But with all the brands available, which are worth stashing? To find out, we asked 12 Fine Cooking staffers to participate in a blind tasting of five widely available brands of chocolate ice cream. While flavors varied, when it came to texture, the ice creams clearly fell into two categories: creamy and dense or light and airy, depending on how much air was pumped into them during churning (more air makes fluffier ice cream). What was less clear was which style our tasters preferred. Some were partial to the denser ice creams, while others liked the airier ones better. That’s why both are in the top three. Read on for a rundown of the results.
Ben & Jerry’s
$4.19 (16 oz.)
This ice cream got high scores for its perfectly smooth, dense, creamy texture (“reminds me of gelato,” wrote one taster) and its intensely rich, well-balanced bittersweet chocolate flavor.
1. Ciao bella
$4.99 (16 oz.)
“Now we’re talking,” said one panelist about this dark and creamy ice cream. (It’s called gelato, but its ingredients are similar to those in the other ice creams we sampled. See the panel below.) Tasters liked its smooth, rich mouth-feel as well as its bittersweet flavor with hints of nuts, although a few noticed a slightly acidic note.
2. Edy’s grand
$5.79 (1.79 qt.)
While definitely in the light and airy category, this ice cream (called Edy’s on the East Coast and Dreyer’s west of the Rockies) was not overly puffed up. Most tasters praised its deep chocolate flavor with cinnamon undertones and lingering bittersweet notes. A few thought it was a little too sweet and slightly sticky.
$5.99 (1.75 qt.)
This soft, airy ice cream had a decent chocolate flavor, but several panelists found it wanting in richness. Its slightly grainy and unappealingly icy texture also disappointed many.
$3.89 (16 oz.)
This creamy, pleasantly dense ice cream (“it was the slowest to melt,” noted one taster) disappointed big time in the flavor department. The chocolate was too bland and had a slightly earthy aftertaste.
You say gelato, I say ice cream
We were curious about the difference between gelato and ice cream, so we posed the question to Il Laboratorio del Gelato owner Jon Snyder. It turns out there is no clear-cut difference. “The way I see it,” he says, “gelato is the Italian word for ice cream.” There isn’t one way to make gelato, just as there isn’t one way to make ice cream. In the South of Italy, for example, gelato tends to be icier, while in the North it’s creamier, with a lot more egg yolks.
That said, a couple of general rules apply. Gelato tends to have less cream and more milk than ice cream, so it has a denser texture because less air is whipped into it (cream incorporates more air than milk). Also, gelato is churned more slowly and served at slightly higher temperatures than ice cream, making it particularly smooth and creamy. Egg yolks can be used in both gelato and ice cream.
In a league of its own
Our panel’s top ice creams are fine everyday treats, and they’d make tasty milk shakes, too, but if you’re looking for something truly special, you’ll want Il Laboratorio del Gelato’s dark chocolate ice cream in your freezer. To say that it’s smooth and creamy is almost an understatement. This ice cream is luxuriously rich and silky—oh, so silky—like the deepest, richest chocolate mousse with an intense, perfectly bittersweet chocolate flavor that will knock your socks off.
Il Laboratorio del Gelato ice creams are available in select stores in New York City or by mail order at LaboratorioDelGelato.com ($60 for four 18-ounce containers, plus shipping).
Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate is a favorite here at Fine Cooking. So when we found out the company had plans to launch Green & Black’s organic chocolate ice cream, we couldn’t wait to taste it. This is a dense, rich, satisfying ice cream with a powerful dark-chocolate flavor and a big bittersweet finish, just like its 70% chocolate bars. Green & Black’s organic chocolate ice cream is available at Whole Foods Markets and other specialty food stores for $4.49 a pint.