My love of ice cream is deep. Growing up, nothing was better than spending a day swimming in the salty waters of the York River in eastern Virginia from the moment we woke up. As lunchtime came, our parents would drag us out of the water for some much-needed fuel. To this day, lunch at the river is always followed by dessert, and, if we are lucky, it is Mom’s homemade ice cream.
You see, for me, ice cream brings back memories. Memories of sitting around the porch on hot summer days with my whole family by the river. Each time I enjoy a bowl (or a pint) of ice cream, I long to be back with everyone, laughing and swapping stories. I recently met Jeni Britton Bauer, whose goal is just that: to bring people together, share memories and make “really great ice cream.”
Jeni’s journey began at Ohio State University where she studied art and worked at a local bakery. After college, Jeni thought to herself, ‘What would American pastries be if they were made to French standards?’ Jeni also had a love of scents. She spent her free time blending beautiful perfumes and collecting essential oils. Combining her love of baking with high standards and her love of beautiful aromas, Jeni set out on her next adventure. In 2002, Jeni founded Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
The Taste Test
With my passion for ice cream, I could not miss an opportunity for a taste test. I headed to RT’s Market with one goal in mind: to get some ice cream. As I searched the freezer, I saw Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. With a handwritten design on the white paper containers, it just had that homemade feel. I grabbed three pints – Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream, Watermelon Frozen Yogurt and Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet – and I headed back to the office.
“Anna, ice cream party in Courtney’s office. Now.”
As the three of us dug in, we talked about our day. We laughed, discussed deadlines and laughed some more. And then the ice cream hit.
“This is the best chocolate ice cream ever.”
“This smells just like watermelon.”
“This texture is like you are eating a pear.”
I telephoned Jeni to discover more. I asked what her goal is as she develops her ice creams, and she said, “To make the best ice cream the world has ever known.” Jeni explained that the three main types of flavor are sweet, bitter and salty, but there are endless scents – cue Jeni’s love of perfumes and essential oils. “American ice cream is harder, [and] slowly melts on your tongue and takes longer to eat than others. This gives you more time to enjoy the scent.”
With her goal in mind, Jeni set out to make the world’s best ice cream, combining quality ingredients, culinary creativity and intoxicating aromas. But making American ice cream with high standards takes research, practice and finding the right resources. Jeni is proud of herself, her team and the way they have come together. “When people work together, we become better,” Jeni said. That’s why Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams follows what they call The Fellowship Model.
According to Jeni, The Fellowship Model is based on one simple rule: “Combining values from the good food world with tools from the 21st century.” This means using the best ingredients, knowing the suppliers and buying products directly from the source whenever possible. “It requires more work, but it is worth it,” Jeni said.
As one can imagine, dairy is the foundation of everything Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams does, and sourcing the best of the best was essential in creating the best ice cream. Jeni didn’t have to look too far, though. Fewer than 200 miles from her kitchen, Jeni found Smith’s, a 110-year-old dairy in Orrville, Ohio. Smith’s works with small family farms to source milk and raw cream from grass-grazed cattle – this was a strong start for Jeni’s ice cream.
And it doesn’t stop there. Lulu Sturdy’s fair-trade and organic-certified farm in Africa provides the vanilla. Jeni’s claims it’s the “finest vanilla on earth,” and that it “exudes a heady scent with notes of jasmine and vanilla.” This vanilla favorite is used to create Ndali Estate Vanilla Bean, which Jeni’s describes as “a voluptuous vanilla ice cream like no other.”
Drive just an hour south of Jeni’s kitchen, and you will run into Hirsch Fruit Farm. This family farm has been growing fresh produce for more than 125 years. Dive into a pint of Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk, Sweet Corn & Black Raspberry or Roasted Pumpkin 5-spice Ice Cream, and you’ll taste some of the finest produce Jeni could find.
From her team, to her suppliers, to her customers, Jeni credits 21 years of success to her community. “You grow a great company as a community of people,” she said. With a keen attention to detail, Jeni brought her ice cream to the top of the market with the help of every hand along the way, but it wasn’t without the requisite good ol’ hard work.
It all begins in Jeni’s office. As I spoke with Jeni in December, she was drumming up new holiday flavors for the next winter. Putting pen to paper and thinking outside of the box while staying true to simplicity, Jeni brainstorms each and every flavor before passing her ideas to the test kitchen, where recipes are developed to bring the creative flavors to life.
And, of course, to make the best recipes, one must use the best resources. Jeni’s team goes to work finding the best of the best for each recipe. Giving time for the ingredients to meld to perfection, the process of developing a new ice cream takes a year from start to finish.
“Service is an art,” Jeni said. “Those are true words,” I responded.
From the people they work with to the stores they open, Jeni’s team aims to provide the best environment for ice cream in order to help connect people and create memories. All of this begins with the creative, yet simple, flavors that go into each season’s collection.
When you enter one of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams stores, you will see scoops of different colors, and you will smell scents from across the globe. And most importantly, you’ll see people making memories. Whether it’s a first date, friends catching up, children getting their lick of a summer treat or even a couple getting married, Jeni’s brings people together, the way ice cream should.
Written by Sarah Grubbs
Photos courtesy of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams