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Ice Cream’s Jewish Innovators

Jews have pioneered the premium ice cream craze for 40 years, from Häagen-Dazs to Ben & Jerry’s and beyond

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(Above: Tablet Magazine; recipe photo: David Gerson.)
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Ice Cream Goes Kosher, and More

Is that rugelach in my scoop?

But Herrell didn’t stay out of the business for long: He opened Herrell’s ice cream parlor in Northampton, Mass., in 1980—that’s where I caught up with him, chatting in one of his store’s wooden booths while a scooper behind the counter mixed Heath Bar pieces into malted vanilla ice cream for me.

I asked Herrell how he felt now that his idea for “mix-ins” had spread throughout the country, with little financial benefit to him. “Good,” he told me. “I feel it is very rewarding that people love so much what I have done. I can barely handle this small business with bookkeeping, personnel, and a landlord. Fortunately, it is for me balanced off by seeing and talking to happy customers, seeing people enjoying their sundaes and shakes.”

Herrell also influenced another important Jewish ice cream company: One day in the mid-’70s, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield came to watch Herrell chop up Heath Bars and Oreos and mix them into ice cream. “Steve pioneered the rejuvenation of homemade ice cream and mix-ins,” said Greenfield.

Inspired by what they saw, Cohen and Greenfield opened their first Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor in 1978 in Burlington, Vt., in a converted gas station. “At first we incorporated mix-ins; then we realized that we weren’t very good at it,” said Greenfield. “We muddled through for a while, and then we made flavored mix-ins like Oreo mint and vanilla Heath Bar crunch.”

Brown, the food writer, sees Herrell and Cohen and Greenfield as part of a larger trend: “A lot of ice cream businesses were started by baby boomers,” she said, “back when the baby boomers were young hippies and a lot of their parents helped them get the businesses going.”

Chozen, the latest in the line of Jewish ice cream companies, is also a family affair, only this time the mom stayed involved. “My two daughters were sitting and eating frozen rugelach one night, and one of them said, ‘Wouldn’t that taste good in ice cream?’ ” said Ronne Fisher, co-founder and chief “flavor officer” of Chozen. After a weeklong course at ice cream university to learn the basics, she bought a machine and started making ice cream with rugelach, matzo, halva, babka—all kosher and dairy. “These delicious flavors are typically Jewish and Eastern European,” she said, noting that flavors on the horizon include blueberry blintz and matzo kugel.

The Fishers don’t see themselves as a mass-market producer, though. “I think we are a niche business,” Ronne Fisher continued. “We have no aspiration to be Häagen-Dazs. It’s just the two of us. We love it. We are small. Our hope is to bring smiles to people’s faces.”

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Fun fact: the Mattuses used their Haagen Dasz money to bankroll Kahanist extremists in the West Bank. The annual Israel Day concert in Central Park is in their honor.

Delicious article, like everything by Joan Nathan.

Delicious, like everything by Joan Nathan…

bernardbaum says:

So go ahead , …..Boycott ice cream .. sort of “freezing ” the Iranians /Arabs out

bernardbaum says:

What do you mean extreists? Is it extreme to fight against those who are looking for nothing more than to annihilate you and all your people?

Chelsea Whitaker says:

I love how the Häagen-Dazs makes no mention of the Polish or Jewish roots of it’s creator… http://www.haagen-dazs.com/company/history.aspx

Steve Steinberg says:

Nice article. I believe that Barricini ice cream also had Brooklyn Jewish roots. One thing I have always wondered about is whether there is a link between this East European Jewish role in creating quality ice cream and the marvelous ice cream (morozhnaya) one gets in Russia. Russian ice cream, in terms of character and richness, is much closer to what the big commercial outfits in America used to market as “French Ice Cream” than actual ice cream in France, which tends to be a bit watery. Back in the Cold War days, Russians and Americans would often agree that while our nations had their serious differences, we were both terrific ice cream makers.

Essentialist much?

bernardbaum says:

your mother must be proud .

And, of course, Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins.

Haagen-Dazs named in honor of Denmark “the only country which saved the Jews during World War II”….beautiful

Great article. Of course, adding mix-ins to ice cream ala Steve’s and Ben and Jerry’s, two Jewish guys from Long Island, is nothing new. Italian and French ice cream makers were adding ingredients like eggplant to ice cream as early as the late 17th century.
Laura Weiss, author, Ice Cream: A Global History.

My mother was the editor of Rose Mattus’ autobiography. And yes, she is incredibly proud of me.

MichaelSklaroff says:

Kind of bewildering that there’s no mention of Baskin-Robbins here. While I way prefer Häagan-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s, Baskin-Robbins stores were first on the scene way back when as the gourmet ice cream presence was first making itself known. At least on Long Island where I grew up.

As a descendant of the Baskin brothers, how come they get no love here?

Brian says:

Haven’t you forgotten to include Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors in your article about Jewish ice cream innovators? Both Irv Robbins and brother-in-law Burt Baskins were Jewish.

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Ice Cream’s Jewish Innovators

Jews have pioneered the premium ice cream craze for 40 years, from Häagen-Dazs to Ben & Jerry’s and beyond

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