On Honey Milk Ice Cream and Jersey Cows

For the past few weeks, I've been daydreaming about making a batch of honey ice cream. Not just any kind of honey ice cream; I specifically wanted something really simple--no eggs or custard or complicated flavorings--just good milk, cream, and honey, churned in the ice cream maker until frozen. Perhaps with a touch of vanilla bean dancing in the background of it all.

Having recently signed up for a dairy co-op that delivers fresh raw milk and cream, pastured eggs, and other farm delights to my New York City door once a week, I knew I wanted to use my new dairy bounty to create this ice cream. The milk I used comes from a Jersey cow on a nearby Amish farm and was delivered to my door less than 24-hours after it was milked and strained. Golden, with a subtle, grassy undertone, the milk is rich, creamy, sweet, and tastes like springtime.

And the cream…oh man, the cream is thicker than anything I've ever seen. The texture is gooey and dense, reminiscent of Devon double-cream. A spoon stuck into it stands up straight and tall, and when I lift it out, the cream clings on, even if I hold it upside-down. The light cream is a little bit looser, but even this is more like a thick yogurt than any cream I've ever purchased at the grocery store. So sweet and luxurious on its own that you don't even need to add sugar. A dollop on top of a bowl of berries or stirred into a mug of hot chocolate or coffee feels absolutely decadent.

This is just pure heavy cream, right from the Jersey cow. Amazing, right?

Before signing up for this service, I did quite a bit of research and learned that Jersey cow milk is about the best you can get. High in protein, vitamins, and minerals, grass-fed Jersey cow milk is the most nutritionally rich milk available (also good is milk from Jersey's cousin Guernsey). By comparison, the majority of US industrial dairies (the ones that produce the milk most commonly found at the supermarket) use Holstein cows, which are efficient for corporate production as they are able to produce massive quantities of milk, but unfortunately the quality is very thin, watery, and much less nutritionally rich even before it goes through the pasteurization process.

Just in terms of numbers, Jersey cow milk is about 6% butterfat (hence that gorgeous, thick cream), while the average Holstein cow's milk is only about 3%. While you might think that this is a benefit (low-fat, right?) it's actually not, since it's the fat in milk that helps your body absorb the vitamins, calcium, and protein that most people drink milk for in the first place. The cream is actually the part that contains vitamins A and D, both of which are fat-soluble. Without Vitamin D, the body can only absorb less than 10 percent of dietary calcium.

So when you drink fat-free milk, you're essentially just getting sugar (aka lactose) and not much else, something which even the US government acknowledged and then tried to rectify by legally requiring industrial milk producers to artificially fortify their skim and 2% milk with synthetic versions of vitamins A and D, something which I personally don't want in my body. (There is actually some debate about the possible toxicity of these particular synthetic vitamins, though that's a whole 'nother story.)

[Want to verify this? Grab a carton of grocery store skim milk (any brand, even organic ones) and check the ingredients. It'll say something along the lines of "Fat Free Milk With Vitamin A Palmitate And Vitamin D3"; A Palmitate and D3 are the synthetics. Click the names to find out more about each one and you'll learn, among other things, that synthetic Vitamin D3 is used in large quantities for rat and possum control. Yup.]

But I digress. My point is that when you really think about, it's kind of silly to go through all that trouble when the stuff that comes from the cow is already pure perfection! And honestly, at the end of the day, this just tastes so much better than anything I've ever gotten at the store.

Another thing whole Jersey cow milk is especially good for is ice cream. The naturally luscious texture of the milk and cream means that you don't need to add things like eggs or cornstarch to get that thick, custardy kind of ice cream texture. Yet more proof that when you start with real, whole ingredients, you're already more than half-way towards a stunning dish.

Creamy and cold, with a pleasing honey flavor throughout, this honey ice cream recipe is as simple as can be and produces an ice cream that is just perfect served with a bowl of fresh berries, or on top of a simple piece of cake. Whether you pick something bold and sweet or soft and floral, use a honey with a flavor that you already love on its own, and I guarantee you'll love the results.

P.S. If any of you are in the NY/NJ area and are interested in trying out the dairy delivery service I mentioned, shoot me an email and I'll give you the details.

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Honey Milk Ice Cream
As this recipe has few ingredients, make sure you start with the freshest milk available in your neighborhood. If you have access to raw milk direct from a farmer, I really recommend using that. Otherwise lightly-pasteurized local milk from a nearby creamery is your next-best bet (often available at Farmer's Markets, farm stands, or well-stocked grocery stores like Whole Foods).

1 1/2 cups fresh whole milk
1 1/2 cups fresh heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split
1 pinch sea salt
1/2 cup honey

In a small saucepan, combine the whole milk, heavy cream, 1/2 vanilla bean, sea salt, and honey. Heat on medium heat just until it starts to simmer, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to an air-tight container, and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, up to 24.

Once chilled, remove the vanilla bean (you can rinse and use for other recipes) whisk the ice cream mixture a few times and then pour into your ice cream maker, freezing according to manufacturer's instructions. The ice cream will be soft-serve texture once it runs through the ice cream maker; to get a more frozen texture, place in an air-tight container and freeze for at least 4 hours before serving. Ice cream will keep well in freezer for about two weeks.

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