There are two things that are part of my personal summer tradition, a ride out to “the country” (from my part of the state that means Litchfield County) and a stop for ice cream.
It all usually happens spontaneously, on a sunny summer Saturday or Sunday when I have had enough of yard work or writing or household chores and I decide it is time for me to treat me.
This year the perfect summer drive was a getaway along Litchfield’s rural back roads to a new ice cream place, Arethusa Farm Dairy in Bantam.
Let me describe my “ice cream like it used to be” treat in four mouthwatering words: sour cherry chocolate chunk.
This was the flavor I stumbled upon, and oh how lucky am I. This was artisanal ice cream at its best, creamy and naturally sweet, all the way down to those diced, just-picked-from-the-tree sour cherries that were mashed up with the dark chocolate chips in the decadent 18 percent fat, vanilla from Madagascar-flavored ice cream.
But I regress.
The Arethusa Dairy store features dairy products from its nearby Arethusa Farm owned by George Malkemus and Tony Yurgaitis, who, when they aren’t farming at their Litchfield dairy farm or running their restaurant, Arethusa al tavolo in Bantam, are CEO and vice president, respectively, of the chic designer shoe company Manolo Blahnik.
The two are a bit obsessive (in a good way) about their businesses, and that includes the dairy products they serve. Everything has to be fresh and real.
“We want good ice cream but we want it to be a complete experience,” Yurgaitis said. “We love seeing people sitting outside on the benches and on the stone wall eating ice cream, families doing something together.”
But back to the ice cream. It is made with natural ingredients — sugar, eggs and milk from Arethusa’s award-winning cows — all carefully mixed in its processing plant located in the dairy store in a renovated firehouse on Bantam’s main Route 202 thoroughfare. Six “old-fashioned” classic flavors are available all year: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee, mint chocolate chip and coconut chocolate chip. Seasonal flavors besides the cherry chunk include peach, cranberry chocolate chip, pumpkin, butter pecan and maple walnut.
“The coconut chip is probably the most popular regular flavor. But seasonally, the peach ice cream is the most one people love,” store manager Louise Arnold said about the summer flavor made with Connecticut farm peaches. “And we just made the peach this week.”
And while ice cream was part of my self-indulgent reason for the ride, the two-year-old pristine dairy store offers so much more when it comes to quality dairy products. There’s milk (whole, 2 percent, 1 percent, skim, chocolate, half-and-half and heavy cream,) fresh cultured butter (sea salt and unsalted), yogurt (whole milk plain, 1 percent, plain, maple and vanilla) and Arethusa’s brand of sour cream that recently won third place in the 2013 American Cheese Society’s annual competition in Wisconsin. There is also a glass display case full of Arethusa cheeses that is attracting nearly as many customers as the ice cream. Featured cheeses include Europa, Bella Anta, Al Tavolo, Al Tavolo Reserve, Crybaby, Tapping Reeve and Camembert, which, by the way, won second place at the national cheese society event.
But back to the ice cream. My summer spree (my makeshift dinner that night) was a $4.25 double scoop of that cherry ice cream in a store-made waffle cone. For those who prefer their ice cream in liquid form, the store also makes shakes, $6 for a regular, $7 for extra thick.
A stroll through the store reminded me that woman cannot live by ice cream alone, summer or not. I found I could not resist buying the freshly rolled summer mozzarella, and, OK, I admit it, I also bought a pint of the cherry chunk ice cream for home. On the drive home, I also stopped at one of the “Connecticut Grown” farm stands and bought three beautiful heirloom tomatoes and a bunch of fresh basil in anticipation of a proper dinner the next night.
Summer is fading but I’m thinking a scoop of cranberry and chocolate chunk ice cream will taste just as good when those autumn breezes blow and I need another excuse for a leisurely ride along Litchfield County back roads bursting with that spectacular foliage.