By Don Oldenburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 30, 2005
REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. -- Forget that "I scream, you scream" nonsense. A block from Rehoboth Beach's grainy sands and churning waves, where beachgoers are baking on a Tuesday afternoon in a 95-degree swelter, Udder Delight Ice Cream House is busy scooping ice cream flavors so outlandish it makes some of its chill-seekers scream, all right.
"Uh, it tastes a little too much like barbecue," says bikini-topped Franny Linus, 25, staring at a creamy beige concoction on a plastic spoon. She grimaces the way people do when sizing up something really weird.
On a day trip from Bear, Del., Linus and her friend Leigh Ann McDonough, 24, flip-flopped into the otherwise old-fashioned ice cream parlor thinking icy-cold mango smoothies. But Udder Delight owner Chip Hearn steered them to an impromptu taste test of his newest creations -- one of which may be the world's first barbecue-flavored ice cream. The other test flavors: a chunky bacon ice cream and a pale-red Cackalacky Spice Sauce ice cream.
Linus licks the bacon ice cream. "Not bad," she says. But she's not big on the frozen bits of bacon. McDonough thinks it tastes a little like butter pecan and kind of likes it.
Studying their reactions are Hearn and his barbecuing and brainstorming partner, H. Page Skelton.
Wearing a denim "Cackalacky" logo apron and a white 10-gallon cowboy hat, Skelton is the president of the Cackalacky Classic Condiment Co. in Chapel Hill, N.C. He drove up this week for the unveiling of this oddball ice cream made with his award-winning sauce, typically poured over North Carolina pork barbecue. Skelton and Hearn, 52, like to travel the nation's competitive barbecue circuit together.
"Bacon and butterfat, what could be better? The stuff should come with CPR instructions," jokes Skelton, 37, watching the young women sample the next sample -- spicy-hot ice cream with a vinegar aftertaste.
"Interesting," concludes McDonough, "but I wouldn't buy a whole thing of it."
They order smoothies.
"You can do almost anything with ice cream -- that's the beauty of it," says Hearn, whose XXXL size shows how beautiful he finds ice cream. He has been in the business 35 years, but it's only in the past three that making dairy out of the ordinary for this store and his boardwalk shop up the street has become his passion.
Within a couple of blocks, Hearn says, he's got a dozen competitors, including Ben, Jerry, Baskin and Robbins. Udder Delight is at the corner of Rehoboth Avenue and Triple Bypass, across from Hooters; inside, the decor is traditional Holstein. The sign in the window boasts of how Hearn's peanut-butter-and-jelly ice cream won the World Series of Ice Cream two years ago.
There's a life-size replica cow head mounted on the wall, to represent the specially bred Jersey cows that supply the extra butterfat-rich milk for Hearn's creations. Its head sways back and forth. When manager Tricia Collins speaks into her lapel microphone, the cow's mouth moves and speaks. "We welcome people and scare little kids sometimes -- not on purpose," says Collins. "If you moo at people as they leave, they are offended sometimes."
Ellery Bryan, 10, a fifth-grader from Winchester, enters the store with Vicky Bryan, her aunt from Jacksonville, Fla. They buy a mint chocolate-chip cone and a Tastykake Peanut Butter Kandy Kake before agreeing to try some extreme ice cream. "It's too exotic for words," says Bryan, tasting the bacon-flavored kind. Ellery thinks it's "really good!"
"Too weird" is her aunt's judgment on the barbecue flavor, but the pair agree the Cackalacky is "almost like cinnamonish." They like it.
"You should try making a nachos ice cream," Ellery suggests.
"Nachos!" Hearn says.
The cold hard fact is that the ingredients must get along -- and that's not always easy. Hearn often consults with the experts at the Penn State Agriculture Department's ice cream school. "If it doesn't work, it separates, it could freeze, it could be nasty," Hearn says. "We tried to do crab-meat ice cream a million different ways and couldn't make it."
When he called Penn State about making barbecue ice cream, he was instructed to triple the vanilla to offset other ingredients in the sauce. "So the barbecue was just pouring a half-gallon of it into the mix, putting a whole mess of high-end vanilla in there, and the fats of the sauce bonded with the fats of the ice cream," he says.
When Hearn mentions that the ice cream professors once told him that pork rind would make a perfect ice cream, Skelton shouts, "That'd be great!"
But Hearn didn't make it. "I'm not going to do pork rind," he says. "This is Delaware. If we were down South somewhere, you know, maybe."
* * *
Pushing the envelope of flavor fusion is the biggest and boldest trend in the ice cream biz right now, with ice cream makers such as Cold Stone Creamery making anything-but-vanilla flavors such as wasabi ginger and black licorice.
The question is, how edgy can you get and still taste good?
Two months ago, Hearn came up with a pear/green tea flavor that's been a big hit -- though he "hates it," he says.
Bryan Wetstone, 15, from Columbia, tries the Cackalacky ice cream and doesn't appear to enjoy it. Hearn says to Skelton, "I think he's going to puke."
When Hearn held a by-invitation tasting a month ago, about 150 people agreed to sample and review 18 flavors, from the new bacon one to others such as cappuccino stout beer, key lime pie, Black Forest (dark chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips and dark Oregon sweet cherries) and honey fig. "There'd be things like, 'This one sucks!' and somebody else would write, 'This one's great, but I wish it had this in' " -- and suggest another ingredient, he says. "The cappuccino stout beer, they either loved it or they hated it. It was like a focus group."
The winners: chocolate raspberry chip, Moo Moo (raspberry ice cream with peaches and strawberries) and Going Nuts With Chocolate (chocolate ice cream with peanuts, almonds, cashews and pecans) -- all good sellers.
Hearn didn't put his "Viagra" flavor to the test. It's made from orange and pineapple in a blue ice cream, with Pop Rocks added at the end. "When it goes into your mouth, you get all the Pop Rocks popping," he says, making no medical claims for the concoction.
Do people buy the Viagra ice cream?
"Less people buying it than asking about it -- but they see the sign and they have to ask," Hearn says.
The weirdest ice cream Hearn has made -- and it's hard to pick just one -- was inspired by the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival in Pennsylvania. "We did mushroom ice cream and mushroom-pecan ice cream," he says. "The mushroom sucked, but the mushroom-pecan rocked! But I would guess that mushroom-pumpkin was the weirdest one ever."
Tricia Collins, scooping a cone for a customer, looks up and shakes her head.
"We just made a cucumber-onion ice cream using Vidalia onions," Hearn confesses. "The onion didn't work, but the cucumber did."
"That's downright weird, Chip," Skelton teases.
Says Hearn: "What I've been saying to them lately is, 'Put a sample in your mouth while you're making up your mind.' It's fun. Ice cream's all about fun."