I had olive oil ice cream for the first time at the little Italian coffee shop down the street from our house. I took my first bite expecting to get a mouthful of intense olive oil flavor, but what I experienced instead was sweet, silky smooth, and subtly fruity. It shook everything I thought I knew about ice cream and olive oil to the core, and that was when I decided I had to try and make some myself so I could eat it whenever I wanted/all the time.
The single most important aspect of making really, fantastically good olive oil ice cream is to use really, fantastically good olive oil. I connected with Melina’s Gourmet Foods and was able to use a small sample of their olive oil to make this ice cream, but before I mixed it into the creamy goodness, I did a little taste test to see if I could tell the difference between their olive oil and some generic store brands. When it comes to determining the quality of an olive oil, color does not always indicate a better tasting olive oil. Instead it is usually indicative of the age of the olives used to make the oil. The younger the olives, the greener the olive oil. There are a wide variety of other factors that go into what makes an olive oil taste good aside from age, like the soil, growing climate, variety, and time of harvest. Like a fine wine, when all of these factors align they can create the ideal olive oil; one that’s smooth, fruity, pungent, and with just a small tinge of bitterness. When storing olive oil, you want to keep it in a cool and dark location to preserve its freshness.
Melina’s Gourmet Foods is owned and operated by Kostas, a Greek immigrant with a passion for artisanal olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Their olive oil is made from kalamata olives grown in Kalamata, Greece. It’s made entirely by hand and contains no artificial flavorings, added filler oils, or preservatives. Their olive oil is also cold-pressed to retain the most flavor possible. For those of you who are unfamiliar with olive varieties, kalamata olives are smooth, plump, and fleshy, and can get so deeply purple that they appear almost black. They’re famous for their richness and at times almost fruity flavor. When my parents had their Greek deli, the kalamata olives were far and above the best selling olives of the half dozen varieties they sold.
While the sample I got was in a practical little plastic container, the regular sized ones are sold in these absolutely gorgeous glass bottles that are custom made for Melina’s. So once you’ve used up all the tasty oil, you’re left with this awesome bottle to fill with other liquids and show off in your kitchen. I also tried some of their infused olive oils and their balsamic vinegars and became particularly obsessed with pairing the garlic infused olive oil and kalamata balsamic together in a shallow dish and dipping slices of bread into them. This was how Jeremy & I ended up eating half a loaf of bread and the entirety of these two samples in one sitting. The kalamata balsamic had an amazing zing to it; the mouthfeel was very similar to carbonation. Their kalamata vinegar is made using sun-dried grapes and requires 10 years of aging in oak barrels, which results in a red wine vinegar that can compete with the flavor of the best balsamics.
When I did the taste test, I used Melina’s Green Gold EVOO, Trader Joe’s olive oil, and the generic Ralphs grocery store brand of olive oil. And in the photo above I think you can tell which one is the generic brand. Yep, it’s the little pale one at the top. Sad, isn’t it? I thought they probably used filler oils, but in the ingredients it only stated olive oil, so it just must have been from a cheaper olive variety not usually used for olive oil-making purposed. But yes, to the tasting results!
- Ralphs (Generic Grocery Store) Brand (top): I gave it a little dap with a spoon and was met with a very bitter and slightly acidic flavor. It wasn’t necessarily a strong flavor, but it wasn’t at all a pleasant one. Definitely had the strong bite that comes with olive oil that’s passed its prime.
- Trader Joe’s Brand (middle): This olive oil had a very woody taste to it, which wasn’t a bad flavor, just not one that tastes as appealing as a more fruity note. And the intensity of the flavor in the Trader Joe’s olive oil was less pronounced than the Ralphs brand. It wasn’t bad, it was just pretty flavorless.
- Melina’s Brand (bottom): This one had a much more pronounced flavor than the other two. It was lightly fruity, tangy, and smooth with a teeny amount of bitterness at the end. Pretty much exactly what you’re looking for in a quality olive oil.
I served this ice cream at my Cinco de Mayo/Greek Easter party this past weekend and everyone quickly became as obsessed with it as I was. Even my non-adventerous-eater friend tried it and liked it so much that he had seconds! So if you think this flavor sounds weird, know that you are not alone in that thought, but trust me when I say you have to try it. It is so, SO good and has such a wonderfully unique flavor to it. The olive oil adds a velvety texture to the mouthfeel, too. Definitely my new favorite homemade ice cream recipe.
Heat the milk, cream, sugar, honey, and salt in a medium-sized thick-bottomed saucepan over low heat until the mixture becomes hot, but not boiling. Remove from heat and gradually drizzle 2 cups of the milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Once the 2 cups have been incorporated, pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan, still whisking. Place the pan back onto the stovetop and cook over the lowest heat setting, whisking constantly, until the mixture has thickened, (about 5-10 minutes). Remove from heat, and whisk in the olive oil and vanilla extract until fluidly combined. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
When you are ready to make the ice cream, prep your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions. Remove the ice cream mixture from the refrigerator. There may be some separation between the olive oil and the rest of the mixture, this is totally fine. Just give it a good whisking right up until the moment you pour it into your ice cream maker. Allow the ice cream maker to churn according to the manufacturer’s directions (I have a cuisinart ice cream maker and it took mine about 20-25 minutes to look ice cream-y), or until the mixture begins to freeze up and thicken considerably. Empty/scoop the ice cream into a freezer-safe container. Seal it, place it in the freezer, and allow it to freeze for 4 hours before serving.