Tastes remembered for life — everyone has a few.
Just thinking about New Mexico-style chili relleno burritos at the defunct LaFiesta on Boise Avenue makes me salivate. The same for pizza at the old Louie’s in Ketchum, garlic salad dressing at Buddy’s in Pocatello, anything at the lamentably departed Danskin Station in Garden Valley. ...
And rum raisin ice cream at Leopold’s. My wife and I went there during a visit to Savannah, Ga., after learning that Leopold’s was rated the fifth best ice cream shop in the world. One taste of its rum raisin and I was hooked for life.
Rum raisin, however, is not your everyday ice-cream flavor. It might be sold in Boise, but if so I haven’t found it. So you can imagine my delight while in neighboring Washington last month at finding it on an ice-cream company’s website there.
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The Olympic Mountain Ice Cream site lists more than 200 Washington retail outlets, which suggested a sprawling factory in Seattle.
Not so. The “factory,” so to speak, is conveniently located about 30 miles from my in-laws’ house on Hood Canal. The rum-raisin quest was on.
I envisioned a short, routine drive.
The directions on the company’s site said to head south on Route 101, turn onto the Skokomish Valley Road and follow it for a little over seven miles before turning onto Bambi Farms Road.
Bambi Farms Road? So much for the sprawling factory in Seattle.
The road wound through picturesque farmland, passing an enterprise called Hunter Farms, a “linger longer” sign and a “fresh corn” sign. Clearly this wasn’t a road leading to anything industrial.
A detour and temporary bridge took me over a mountain creek. From there the road led from lush farmland to deep forest. Ferns lined the road; brooding evergreens all but shut out the sun. Sudden twilight; semi spooky. Had I taken a wrong turn?
Then, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sign — Bambi Farms Road.
Bambi Farms Road did not inspire confidence. It was narrow, one lane, dirt. Here the woods closed in even more. Longfellow’s forest primeval came to mind. The road was so narrow and tortuous that the speedometer fell from slow to crawling speed to barely moving.
After multiple twists and turns, the road forked. Exactly in the middle of the fork was an enormous tree. Steps made of boards leading to a treehouse were nailed to its trunk. Nowhere was there the sort of directional sign you’d expect for an operation that supplied ice cream (or anything else, for that matter) to over 200 businesses. Worse, there was nowhere to turn around in the event that I was lost, which was seeming more and more like a possibility.
Only after looking for the second or third time did I spot the sign, such as it was, scrawled in minuscule letters on one of the treehouse steps: ice cream. Just those two words — no company name, no indication of distance, nothing but handwritten letters and a faded arrow pointing to the left. Compared with it, the Bambi Farms Road sign was flashing neon lights.
More twists and turns, and a clearing with a small parking lot and several buildings appeared. Two of the buildings were virtually festooned with flower pots and baskets. Above one of their doors, all but hidden by flowers, was yet another modest sign. Again, just two words. No company name, no slogan, just “ice cream.”
On the front porch of one of the buildings, a man was busy watering flowers. He turned out to be Karl Black, who with his wife, Bev, started the business 31 years ago. Looking for a quiet place where they could live and raise their children close to nature and on their own terms, the Blacks opened an organic truck farm in the beautiful Skokomish Valley. That led to a gelato shop and what eventually became Olympic Mountain Ice Cream.
It was a hot day. I sweltered on the porch while Karl watered the flowers and expounded on the lack of quality in mass-produced foods. Some so-called “premium” ice creams, he said, have a shelf life of one year.
“A year!” he practically shouted. “They have lists of preservatives a foot long. We use minimal preservatives. Our shelf life is two weeks. It would last longer than that, but the texture changes so it has to be eaten while it’s fresh.
“You won’t find any ice cream fresher than ours. We get our cream from a dairy in Oregon. When they’re in season, we use fresh, local peaches and berries and other fruits.”
While Karl continued to water the flowers, Bev showed me the “production room.” It was about the size of a large kitchen. Three employees were making ice cream. Slowly.
“We make it three gallons a time, over and over,” she said.
All of her and Karl’s children have worked there. Twenty employees help them make and deliver ice cream and sorbets to shops and restaurants. It’s not sold in supermarkets.
Two-hundred-plus retail outlets notwithstanding, it’s still a Mom and Pop operation. The bottom line is secondary to making tastes remembered for life — over 200 ice cream flavors and nearly 100 sorbets: from lemon lavender and chocolate Grand Marnier to Irish freckles and zabaione.
“With a couple of days notice, we’ll make anything you want,” Karl said.
In an age of mass-produced everything, it was a treat to discover a family-run business almost obsessively passionate about quality and innovation.
Even if it is on a primitive road in a forest primeval.
Oh, you’re wondering about the rum raisin.
Let’s just say it was worth the trip.
Tim Woodward's column appears every other Sunday and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at email@example.com.