Cool and creamy or icy and fruity, there's a frozen treat for everyone. Whether you thrill to a scoop of simple vanilla ice cream, adore tropical fruit sorbets, or search out the smoothest dairy-free dessert, here's a round-up of the top specialty ice cream brands, along with some of our favorite flavor picks.
1. Most Interesting Ice Cream
Laloo's is like the confidently quirky charmer of the ice cream aisle. Just by merit of being goat milk-based, Laloo's stands out from the crowd — it has a creamy smoothness and mild tang unmatched by cow's milk ice creams. The interplay between ice cream's familiar texture and goat milk's uncommon flavor is what makes it so intriguing. The entire line is worth sampling, but Laloo's simplest flavor, Vanilla Snowflake, is a knockout. Who knew the marriage of Madagascar vanilla and goat's milk was so sublime? Quite possibly the ultimate vanilla ice cream. Find it at Whole Foods, specialty markets, and health food stores, or order online at icecreamcource.com. Hormone-free. Lactose-friendly. K-ORC Kosher. Price: $7/pint.
2. Best Flavor Range
Manhattan gelateria Ciao Bella has served up its chef-driven flavors for almost 30 years. Happily, you don't need be in New York to taste its award-winning gelato and sorbetto — you'll find it in freezer sections throughout North America, Japan, and the West Indies. Flavors run from classic to inventive: there's Pistachio, Chocolate Hazelnut, or a milky, fruit-studded Strawberry for gelato purisits, and Malted Milk Ball or Chocolate Jalalpeno for adventuresome eaters. Refershing sorbets include tangy Passion Fruit, Prickly Pear, Blackberry Cabernet and Peach Ginger. There are frozen novelties, too — Key Lime Gelato Squares won a 2010 sofi™ Gold Award. In supermarkets and online at icecreamcource.com. rBST-free. Some Kosher. Price: $4.
3. Best Supermarket Ultra-Premium Brand
Can't get to a specialty shop? Supermarket stalwart Haagen-Dazs is a reliable source for smooth, creamy classics like Vanilla Swiss Almond or Rum Raisin, and increasingly, for less common flavors like a great Green Tea made with Matcha. I find the marketing conceit behind the newish "five" line a bit disingenuous: Lemon, for example, isn't "crafted with only five ingredients," — it's got 7 — while some flavors from the regular line, like Coffee, have just 5. It's also touted as "surprisingly low in fat," but is far from low-fat. That quibble aside, Haagen-Dazs gets props for its extensive line of quality ice creams, sorbets, and frozen yogurts, and for turning mainstream attention to the plight of honeybees. OU-D Kosher. Price: $4.39/pint.
4. Best Soy-Based Dairy Free Frozen Dessert
For those seeking dairy-free ice cream alternatives, Turtle Mountain’s Purely Decadent line is the gold standard. Geared toward sundae lovers and those who like lots of “stuff” in their ice cream, the soymilk-based line has a clean flavor and creamy texture. (I'm not enthused by the coconut milk line, but some love it.) The decadent flavors don’t taste precisely like regular ice cream – they lack its milky flavor and heavy mouthfeel. But with the exception of Vanilla, they also don’t have the beany flavor of other soy ice creams. Gluten-free Cookie Dough is reminiscent of frozen custard, and Mocha Almond Fudge is a dreamy mix of coffee, gooey fudge, and lots of roasted almond pieces. In supermarkets. Certified Vegan & Kosher. Price: $5.