I’m a big supporter of any ice cream company that dares to enter uncharted waters of funky flavoring, zeroing in on specialized tastes outside of the freezer aisle norm. But not too outside of the norm. Watching the Travel Channel and Food Network would have anyone believing there’s a market out there for hideous gunk such as fish and pizza ice cream. Nobody wants that. Ice cream belongs in the realm of the sweet, not the wecanbecausewecan mentality. Still, even lords of the cold treat can get a little ahead of themselves from time to time.
I’ve covered Blue Bell’s ice cream sorcery before with tremendous abandon, and I stand by the company and their breathtaking skills producing a mass-marketed dessert treat that tastes just like a homemade after-meal event. Blue Bell’s ice cream is the finest grocery store concoction I’ve ever enjoyed, with the company working overtime to manufacture monthly flavors that come across as pure novelty, yet retain full flavor impact, helping the brand reach new, exciting levels of superiority.
Admittedly, the company’s gift for surprise has waned a bit in 2010, with the monthly flavors showing atypical timidity in the face of recession blues. Last month’s achievement was “Vanilla Cookies ‘n Cream,” which tasted much like high-fiving heaven, but didn’t register strongly in the imagination department.
This month unveils “Caramel Kettle Crunch,” which merges vanilla ice cream with swirls of caramel sauce and chunks of sugar-coated popcorn. Yes, popcorn. On the grand scale of daredevil ice cream manufacturing, this idea rates pretty low, yet the concept of popcorn ice cream unnerves me in a way that I don’t fully understand. Perhaps it’s the harsh bite of popcorn or the havoc it wreaks inside the average mouth, but a kernel invasion in my ice cream is not what I’d consider progress. Blue Bell has yet to manufacture a Pumpkin Pie flavor (to my knowledge) or return the supreme, nation-conquering Anniversary Cake to store shelves, but they spend their time on caramel corn?
I have to hand it to the Blue Bell scientists. They’ve done an amazing job isolating the appeal of caramel corn in this offering, with the ice cream retaining its creamy, vanilla appeal while bombarded by a surprisingly insistent popcorn invasion.
The chunks are dutifully popcorny and sweetly encased, retaining their rightful crunch even through the most determined summertime melt. It takes some personal effort to hurdle the harsh popcorn punch, but after a few bites, the consistency of what Blue Bell was aiming for shines right through. They’ve achieved a State Fair feeling to the ice cream, which snugly themes into the celebratory month of July. I was skeptical of this flavor, but it’s interesting and sweetly suggestive, if not a true stunner.
Popcorn and ice cream. What’s next, a man on the moon?