ROOTS ICE CREAM, A SCOOP OF THE LOWCOUNTRY'S BOUNTY
by Kathleen Curry
Just in time for a Spring that has felt like summer, Roots Ice Cream is back at the Farmers Market. And how cool is it that, after one year in business, it has been recognized by Southern Living magazine as a "Summer in the South 2012" top pick among southern artisan ice creams?
Roots is a locally grown, locally made ice cream that is released in seasonal flavors. These flavors reflect the growing schedule at McClellanville's Thornhill Farms. Roots owner and creator Matt Frye serves as Production Manager at Thornhill; he plans what will be grown where and when, and in the evenings he mixes those newly yielded crops into ice cream flavors. Spring through Fall, these flavors are sold at the Farmers Market at Marion Square in Downtown Charleston. It was also featured at the Wine and Food festival in March for the second year in a row. For a product this new, old-fashioned word of mouth has been an extremely effective marketing strategy, and Roots frequently sells out fast.
In naming the product, Frye thought it was natural to play on the multiple meanings of the word roots—whether they are familial, geographic, or agricultural in nature. Frye is originally from Raleigh, NC, and he graduated from C of C in 2009. He had planned to join the Peace Corps followed by a pursuit of a degree in Agricultural Studies, but that all changed with the taste of a sweet pea, fresh from the field.
In 2010, Frye was apprenticing local farmers Maria Baldwin of Thornhill Farms and Sidi Limehouse of Rosebank Farms as part of the Lowcountry Local First’s “Growing New Farmers” program. Much like Newton and his apple, Matt Frye got a big idea from that fresh from the farm flavor of a sweet pea, incidentally the first plant that kicks off the growing season in this area. He realized that adding cream and sugar would make a novel, locally-made frozen treat that celebrates the Lowcountry and its bounty. In sharing his idea, it was a running joke to see what other 'crazy' unexpected flavors staff could dream up--beets, berries, figs, melons, sweet potatoes, muscadine grapes, butternut squash, maybe honeysuckle…?
Jokes aside, it is evident Frye has a real passion and good instinct for ice cream. He already had a recipe in mind before attending Penn State's Ice Cream school, a ten day crash course that has also graduated the biggest names in the business, i.e., Ben &Jerrys and Baskin Robbins. While it was a very valuable experience, ironically it didn't alter his originally planned recipe. Frye says, "it was a lot of fun, and it was also fun to tell people I went to ice cream school. Those ten days were split into 2 halves: the first phase was several 12 hour days covering ice cream and the chemistry of ice cream. The second phase was a sensory evaluation portion, try 50 different vanillas notice the major ingredients of each one, making blind taste tests of major brands, taking apart what they're using and how. What they were teaching was a creamery style that a lot of major brands use; what I envisioned was a nostalgic creamery style--less fat and more flavor. It uses whole milk instead of cream. I wanted to balance the line between what you crave as a child, you know, the creamy unctuous flavor, but not in an overbearing way, it's got a delicate nature. Roots resembles the kind of ice cream you would find at a high-end restaurant."
For all his ice cream know-how, even Frye is sometimes pleasantly surprised by how the flavors taste once created. For instance, last summer's blueberry-fennel came was a surprise hit. Instead of sharing a growing season, fennel's growing season was drawing to a close, while the blueberries were newly arriving. It was a gamble, but it paid off.
In the past year, Roots flavors have included Carrot Ginger, Earl Grey, Milk and Honey, Cucumber-Mint, Honeysuckle, Beet, Fennel, Strawberry Sorbet, Fresh Mint Molasses Chip, Blueberry-Fennel, and Honey Bourbon. Chocolate is typically available all seasons, however, it is the exception. The other flavors are always changing and when they run out, they’re out. But as one flavor’s season ends, others are just beginning. Frye collaborates with other farms like Rosebank Farms, Joseph Fields farm, and Dirthugger for ingredients not available from Thornhill. Frye says, "Meg Moore of Dirthugger (James Island) is the only farm growing ginger in this area, and the carrot ginger flavor would not have been possible without it. The Earl Grey we featured earlier in April used tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation (Wadmalaw Island). “
Now that we are halfway through spring, and the honeysuckle is blooming, you can bet the honeysuckle ice cream will be arriving any weekend now. In order to get the scoop about Roots latest creations, check their twitterfeed, facebook page, or their website. In the past, they've had a "community supported ice cream" (CSI) program, where fans can sign up via their email list, and pick up a pint at the Farmers Market the following Saturday. Roots can also make up an “Official Couple’s “Flavor” for serving at weddings—how sweet it is. Stay tuned to our upcoming issue of Eat This! Charleston on stands middle of May for Root’s own Honeysuckle Ice Cream Recipe.
If you can’t wait for summer to officially get here, a cone of Roots might just convince you to savor the flavor of the current season instead, whatever the weather.