Best bites: At Hadley, ice cream is king

There is local food. There is hyper-local food. And then there’s the ice cream from the farm in Hadley.

I’m talking about two places in particular, just down the street from each other: Scoop at the Silo and Flayvors of Cook Farm. Imagine this: you’re sitting there in the sun, licking, and the cow that made the milk that went into your ice cream is walking around and mooing right in front of you.

For this week’s ice cream tasting adventure, I enlisted my most trusted junior food critic: my 7-year-old nephew Azai, who also happens to be one of the most enthusiastic ice cream lovers in the world. world.

Because ice cream is so instinctive, we are all very well aware of our own preferences. You have ice cream lickers that laser focus on all the nutty, caramel, and chocolate permutations available. You’ll also find fruit fanatics, creme biscuits, and a few contrarian rums and raisins.

Azai is a chocolate chip cookie dough man. He decided to undertake a controlled experiment and compare ice cream to cookie dough at every stop on our trip.

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to enjoy an ice cream outside than Scoop at the Silo, which is part of the Maple Valley Creamery. Boules are served through a small window in a creaky wooden barn decorated in a delightfully quirky style, framed by rolling hills and grassy pastures.

Around the back of the barn is a stage which occasionally hosts live music. Beyond, tables equipped with umbrellas are scattered around a field. And then there are the cows. Cows everywhere. You can walk up to them and hang out together.

On the Saturday when we visited, there was also an authentic Mexican taco and food truck, El Durango, parked near the two large silos that inspired the name of the place.

But we weren’t there for the tacos. Azai gave cookie dough ice cream a go. The underlying vanilla was smooth and rich. A surprise, however, was how much Azai liked my choice too – something he would never have ordered normally.

It was called “fruit soft towel”. They start with vanilla ice cream (or frozen yogurt or a non-dairy concoction). Then they add fruit – I chose blueberries – and they spin it all in a blender. The result is a unique infused ice cream creation that mimics the texture and classic curvy appearance of old fashioned ice cream.

At nearby Maple Valley Creamery’s excellent shop, you can also find packaged treats including cheese curds, raw milk, chocolate-dipped ice cream sandwiches, and skyr, a thick Icelandic version of yogurt. – try it with maple.

Cook Farm Flayvors, just down the road, is the Cow Scoop for the Cow. You command from a window and then you can enjoy a spectacular view of a giant cow pasture and all of the surrounding countryside.

Azai nodded in approval as he licked his Flayvors ice cream, though he noted that the chocolate chips in the cookie dough were a bit large for his taste. I ordered “Vanilla Malt,” a unique Western Massachusetts specialty that surely draws on the great tradition of Herrell’s (see below). Flayvors’ rendition was rather sweet, more vanilla than malty, with just a hint of barley.

Two ice creams were enough for an afternoon, but a few days later Azai and I continued our trip with a stop at Herrell’s in downtown Northampton, where most of my earliest ice cream memories were formed.

This time we brought Clare, one of my oldest and dearest friends, who now lives in Uganda. She was also co-author of “The Menu”, my guide to restaurants in the area so many years ago.

Herrell’s doesn’t have cows, but it does have teddy bears. At the time, there was a whole picnic of teddy bears mounted on the ceiling. Today’s teddy bears sit on the store floor with customers, but they’re still as fun and welcoming as ever.

Steve Herrell is a founding father of the entire American high-end ice cream industry — his new book, “Ice Cream and Me,” tells the story — and you’ll still see him pass by from time to time. He describes himself as a “vanilla man” at heart, just like me. Herrell’s Plain Vanilla is a thicker crema than Far Orchid but still a delicate interplay between the two.

Clare and I agreed that what really sets Herrell’s ice cream apart is its elasticity. Lift your spoon from the cup and a ribbon of ice cream will follow it as high as you can lift your arm. This corresponds to a unique, smooth and satisfying texture in the mouth.

For me, Herrell’s vanilla malt is the standard by which all other ice creams should be judged (and judged inferior). The creative use of fermented barley yields even better results than beer and delivers what might be the most magnificent original taste sensation to ever come out of Northampton. It’s dreamy in a milkshake too.

Herrell’s also invented the much-emulated “smoosh-in,” where they spread ice cream on a counter and smack in your choice of candy. (I love Heath bars.) An underrated and great value gem is the cookie dough pie. Azai also loved the cookie dough ice cream here. But for him, the best was yet to come.

Azai was clear from the start that he already knew where his favorite ice cream was going to be: Northampton’s absolute zero, whose everyone’s favorite trick is making fresh ice cream from milk right in front of you. It’s squarely in the “entertainment” category that was launched in the 1960s with hibachi grills, and later followed by tableside guacamole.

It’s the Benihana of ice cream. They pour the milk onto an ice-cold tray, spread it like a pancake, use a spatula to shape it into delicate buns, and artfully arrange it in a cup.

Absolute Zero’s style, which has only recently come into vogue in America, is variously referred to as “rolled ice cream” or “Thai ice cream”, and it doesn’t come cheap. But for Azai, nothing else can compare, not even cows or teddy bears. He loves watching the alchemy of ice cream, its formation right before his eyes as the anticipation builds in his stomach.

I will briefly mention a few more of my local favorites. Mount Tom’s in downtown Easthampton is a kitsch classic that’s part confectionery and part ice cream parlor, with a 1950s vibe.

at Bart’s was a longtime Northampton and Amherst veteran whose only remaining walk-in scoop shop is in Greenfield. Bart’s also makes great vanilla malt, and unlike Herrell’s, you can find their products in many area grocery stores (including State Street Fruit Store in downtown Northampton). To finish, Mr. Cone at Chicopee has a unique soft-serve recipe that enthusiasts swear by.

I can’t remember the first time I tried ice cream. It’s like trying to remember my first taste of milk. Like smiles and birthday parties, these are parts of childhood that transcend our records of time and melt into the soft nothingness of pre-existence.

After two delicious days with Azai, I was convinced that the best way to rediscover the ice child within is to do so with a real ice child by your side.

Robin Goldstein is the author of “The Menu: A Restaurant Guide to Northampton, Amherst and the Five Colleges Area”. He sits remotely on the faculty of agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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