My semi-annual ice cream tour (with the "I play Bridge so I can't go every year" cousin) took place on Saturday and it was a hit-or-miss event. First stops, -Sweet Scoops in Salem and Bailey's in Salem -had both apparently closed for business, so we headed over to Cherry Farm in Danvers after I received a tongue lashing from the ice-cream-cousin for not doing better research.
Cherry Farm gives the best free samples anywhere, they're served in little tiny sample cones. I tried Chocolate Peanut Butter and thought it was nice and rich with a good dose of peanut butter swirl, but ice cream cousin ordered a full scoop of it and declared it mediocre. (She had sampled Coffee Heath Bar and found it to be weak on coffee flavor). I got a scoop of banana, made with under-ripe bananas and therefore not very tasty, and a scoop of Cashew Caramel Turtle which was loaded with cashews, hersheys choc syrup and caramel. But the cashews were chopped too small to have much flavor and the syrups were overly sweet and not very rich, making for a dull combination. All in all we thought Cherry Farm was a nice friendly place with some mediocre ice creams, maybe worth a five mile drive.
Next stop: Meletharb Ice Cream in Wakefield.
Cousin Ice Cream sampled Kahlua Fudge Brownie and declared the brownie to be rich and probably homemade. She got a full scoop of Meletharb's Oreo which she has always considered the best Oreo ice cream anywhere, and reported that it still holds the crown. I sampled mango sorbet which was every bit as good as Haagen Daz, and got a scoop of Molasses Ginger Snap ice cream that was out-of-this-world. Rich and creamy with lots of chewy pieces of ginger snap cookies. best ice cream of the day and well worth a 30-35 mile trip
Third stop: Mad Maggie's in North Reading.
Mad Maggie's has been a favorite of mine over the last three years but this stop was a little disappointing. Cousin Ice cream declared her sample of Pumpkin Ginger snap ice cream to be nice and rich, but the batch had just been made and was too soft to have a full serving. She opted for Apple Pie ice cream and said that it was good, but that she wished that it had contained pieces of real pie crust instead of pieces of graham crackers. I tried the Double Dark Chocolate and thought that it was no better than Single Dark Chocolate, and I then ordered a scoop of Banana Pudding ice cream that was good, though it could have used more vanilla wafers smooshed in.
Rating: 10-12 miles
At Hayward's Ice Cream in Nashua, Cousin Ice Cream sampled the Cookie dough ice cream and gasped when she noticed that they used those standard, 1/4 inch squares of commercially produced cookie dough chunklets. She opted for a scoop of Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream and declared it to be extra-rich and with real strawberry swirl....well worth about a 10 mile drive. I, on the other hand, tried Banana Fudge Ice Cream which was served in a much-too-soft stage and had no discernable fudge ripple. The ice cream was overly airy and light,more of an ice-milk than an ice-cream, but well flavored with probably a combination of real bananas and banana extract. Probably my weakest scoop of the day and not worth more than a 2-3 mile drive (and only if absolutely starving for something chilly).
If you think that this was too much ice cream for one afternoon, let me just report that this turned out to be one of our least successful ice cream outings. Six stops is more the average. But Ice Cream Cousin is getting a little bit cholesterol-conscious in her old age so we had to behave.
One little note about Mad Maggie's, the ice cream scooper girls tend to wear outfits that are obviously designed to increase the weight of the tip jars, and the tip jar was overflowing.
And one more note about Meletharbs...while we enjoyed our ice cream, I noticed an employee in the back who was making an oblong ice cream cake. She was placing scoop after scoop after scoop into that ice cream mold, they obviously contain A LOT of ice cream. But this employee, with the same hands that handled my cash, was pressing the ice cream very tightly down into the pan. I imagine that she washed her hands after handling my cash,but I never saw her wash them. And even with cleaned hands, I don't think I like the idea of the palm of someone's hand pressing down into my ice cream cake over and over and over and over again. I know, I know, pizza guys toss the dough, bakers knead the bread, but something about man-handling ready-to-eat ice cream seems a little stomach-turning. Maybe it's just me, and maybe I shouldn't worry about having somebody's palm prints all over my ice cream cake, but I think if I ever order one from Meletharb's I'll ask them to "flatten the ice cream with the back of the scoop already!"