With all the really big stories behind us, ice cream may be the biggest scoop in town.

While Americans continue to annually gobble their usual 14 odd quarts per person, they won't settle for just any ice cream, say industry sources. Dippers are experiencing a Back - To - The - Parlour movement as ice cream addicts eschew the supermarket freezer for the cone-in- y industry marketeers, lots of butterfat, rich textures, natural flavors.

As always, vanilla is America's over - all favourite, according to ice cream expert Dr. Wendell Arbuckle, a retired University of Maryland professor turned ice cream consultant.

But Baskin - Robbins (Jamoca Almond Fudge, Chocolate Chip Mint, etc), Swenson's (Sticky, Chewy Chocolate), Haagen-Dazs (all-kosher, all-natural Chocolate Chocolate-Chip) and others are battling for the hearts and tongues of America's chocoholics. Chocolate ice cream remains a strong Number 2.

The hot news that has the industry melting all over itself, though has to do with the Number 3 slot, where it's "Bye-bye, strawberry, hello, fudge ripple." Nut ice creams like butter pecan have bounced strawberry from its Number 3 perch on the All-Time Favorite Ice Cream Hit Parade, down to Number 6. In between are ripples like Jamoca Almond Fudge and the three-flavored nespolitan.

After that, America likes to lick coffee, candy crunches (such as Butter Brickle), chocolate chip, peach, and cherry.

Among the least loved flavors of all time is said to be Chili Con Carne Good Humor.

University labs have also come up with sauerkraut sherbet, potato and bacon, and root beer. Arbuckle flies all over the world to tell people what's wrong with their ice cream. Once, he developed Sweet Potato ice cream for the Maryland Sweet Potato Growers. (They were searching for a new market for their li'l ol'tater.)

Companies are forever searching for that ultimate tongue-pleaser. And customers are penning off notes to such as Baskin-Robbins to suggest new flavors and complain about old ones. One letter to the late Burt Baskin, writes Paul Dickson in "The Great American Ice Cream Book," griped that the brains who dreamed up their 31 flavors must be "plumb nuts." Which inspired a new flavor.Plum Nuts (plums, vanilla and walnuts).

Swenson's doesn't know about all that. They just know that children kick up a storm for their bubble gum ice cream, a flavor most parents find yukky. Still, on any evening, you will likely find kids picking pieces of bubble gum out with their fingers, counting them up and screaming loud and long if they feel short-changed. At which point, the manager may scurry over with a few extra pieces to keep the peace.

Everyone has his favorite flavor. As the summer burns up the backyard and the tongue sweats to plunge itself deep within a scoop of coolness, you can rest easy. There's still time to get your licks in.