Originally published Sept. 5, 2010 in The Daily Sound.
What happens when an accomplished chef—a cookbook author, food columnist for national magazines, and well known food stylist—decides to turn her critical eye to America’s favorite frozen dessert? Rori Trovato, who launched Santa Barbara-based Rori’s Artisanal Creamery last December, has the scoop.
Rori’s Artisinal Creamery’s ice cream is available in Santa Barbara at all four Jeannine’s Bakery locations, in Los Olivos at Los Olivos Grocers, and in select stores in Los Angeles as well. From launch, Rori’s was available by the pint; recently, the creamery introduced the single-serving cup size. The Figueroa location of Jeannine’s also sells it by the scoop.
Trovato says that the whole concept behind her ice cream is “intensity—really bold, clean flavors.” There’s equally intense attention to detail throughout the process by which she develops her line, whether stunning takes on a classic (like “serious dark chocolate”) or something a little off the beaten path (like” root beer float”).
Take, for instance, the thought and preparation that ultimately became her Stumptown Espresso flavor. Trovato had been experimenting with several types of coffee.
“I needed it strong,” she told The Daily Sound, “but I couldn’t get the intensity without getting it bitter.”
“We’re used to over-roasted coffee, for better or worse that’s what we like,” she explained, using Starbucks as an example of what a typical American coffee drinker consumes. “But, for an ice cream maker, that’s hell.”
For her whole line, in fact, Trovato said, “I try to add as little sugar as I can get away with–I like sweet, but I don’t want that to be the first sensation.”
Trovato’s attempts to cut the bitterness from using the over-roasted coffee resulted in “cloyingly sweet” ice cream. She needed a different roaster, and eventually picked Portland, Oregon-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters. It was a synergistic choice; Jeannine’s Bakery, which not only carries the product, but from whom Trovato rents her industrial kitchen space in Carpinteria, started carrying Stumptown as its house coffee last March.
“Gordon [Hardey, of Jeannine’s] pushed for it,” Trovato shared. Ultimately she found that she “couldn’t ask for a better coffee to make espresso ice cream with.”
“Stumptown kind of under-roasts the coffee,” Trovato said. “There’s a very molasses-y finish to its espresso.” She subjected the Stumptown coffee to her cold-steep methodology: taking the whole bean espresso, grinding it with cream, and having it sit in a custard base for three days. Trovato found that the “outcome was night and day.”
“It’s pretty intense,” she said. “And there’s caffeine.”
There are equally in-depth origins behind all her ice creams, all of which are cold steeped, and all of which possess different, yet appropriate, mouth feels, textures, and viscosities. The root beer float flavor, for instance, mimics that pleasant mouthful of ice crystals you get in the real thing; the peanut butter and jelly ice cream is dense; the serious dark chocolate is akin a mouthful of ganache. High end? Certainly, but never does the ice cream veer into what might be thought of as weird or uninviting.
“I never wanted an ice cream that you didn’t crave in the middle of the night,” Trovato said. “No black pepper saffron.”
Trovato is picky about what goes into Rori’s ice creams. Milk, cream, and eggs come from Marin County’s Straus Family Creamery. As with the Stumptown Espresso, she’s also particular with each flavor. For instance, she makes her own mint patties by hand, eschewing the corn syrup-laden mass market versions, to use in the fresh mint patty ice cream. Hers contain organic powdered sugar, agave syrup, and organic peppermint extract; she then melts dark chocolate to coat each side. All of this just to crumple it up and mix into the ice cream.
Trovato offers her version of vanilla as another example:
“It costs a fortune to use Tahitian vanilla beans, but when I compare the flavor to Madagascar vanilla beans, it’s worth every penny,” she said. “When you taste the vanilla, you’ll know why.”
The customer pays for the quality of those ingredients. A pint of Rori’s Artisinal Ice Cream runs $6.50, or $7.25 for the Roman’s chocolate coconut or the serious dark chocolate (single-serving cups run $3). While this cost may seem like a barrier to entry for the consumer, the numbers don’t lie: in its first month of operation, Rori’s sold 75 pints, according to Trovato. By July, that number had reached about 3,700.
“In a relatively short time, it kind of just went wild,” Trovato shared.
Trovato said her biggest seller is salted caramel, attributing it simply to “the fact that it’s really good.”
“The sea salt cuts the edge off,” she elaborated, “and you get this edge of something, certainly not salty, and people go crazy for it.”
Trovato revealed that part of her strategy is to capitalize on nostalgia, as many have such fond memories of ice cream dating back to their youth. But with her creations she also wants to create “new nostalgia.” The most popular flavors with kids, Trovato said, are the peanut butter and jelly, the milk chocolate chunk, and the malted milk ball.
“The ice cream is really malted,” she explained, chuckling about the fact that most kids “don’t even know what malt is.”
At launch, the business was known as Rori’s Organic Creamery, but the “organic” designation presented a challenge for this small business. While using a preponderance of organic (and local) ingredients, the company’s rented commercial kitchen is not certified as organic. The logistics and expense of getting certified don’t make business sense at this time, for owner nor tenant. By relaunching as “Rori’s Artisanal Creamery,” certain high-end grocery outlets are now eligible to carry the ice cream, not having to worry about that “organic” certification.
Trovato would enjoy having a retail store at some point, saying that it would be satisfying on a personal level to see people actually eat her ice cream, she quite enjoys the challenge of being a wholesaler, of contending against the big brands.
“In terms of really trying to expose people to great food done right, you must go against the Dryers and others,” she said. When it’s in the supermarket, in the frozen food section, going toe to toe with–and succeeding against–the mass-market brands, “that’s much more satisfying.”
“I’ve never been turned down where I’ve gone to sell it,” Trovato said. “People get excited; it’s very nostalgic. It’s a really fun thing to sell. That’s the bottom line; I just can’t believe I get to do this for a living. I made the decision, I made it happen, and I love it. It’s such a blast.”