Each scoop of Jeni's ice cream is a masterpiece, a small-scale work of art dreamed up by Jeni Britton Bauer and brought to life with lots of help from lots of people. This year, we followed the process of a pint of Jeni's Sweet Corn & Black Raspberries -- a flavor that just screams Ohio, right? -- from a cow in Athens to a scoop shop in Clintonville. Here's a look at how the magic happens. Hirsch Fruit Farm in Chillicothe grows the black raspberries used in Sweet Corn & Black Raspberries. That's where Jeni's also sources strawberries, blackberries, peaches and other fruits. The Hirsches now plant extra strawberries to fill Jeni's needs, which has helped the farm avoid having to sell excess produce through a wholesale market, said Mike Hirsch. "It's made my life much easier," Hirsch said. The Jeni's-Hirsch relationship started with the strawberries, and it's grown from there. Hirsch said he tries to meet as many of Jeni's odds-and-ends produce requests as he can, often asking around among his farming friends across the state. Some of Jeni's more out-there produce requests? --Beets, for Beet Cake with Black Walnuts
--Cucumbers, for Cucumber Sake Sorbet
--Pie pumpkins, for Buttercup Pumpkin and Amaretti Cookie
--Zucchini, for Parmesan & Zucchini Bread Jeni's bought 65,000 pounds of strawberries this year. The first year Britton made ice cream in the North Market, she bought two flats.
"Back in the day, I'll be honest, the farmers were not that excited to work with me," Britton Bauer said. "Not only were they not giving me wholesale prices, they weren't giving me the best strawberries. They wanted to keep those for their other customers -- we were going to pulverize them anyway." Hirsch says he got his foot in the door with Jeni's in part because Hirsch is one southernmost Ohio farms that grows strawberries -- and his grow a few weeks earlier than the ones at farms up north.
Still, it's not always early enough. It's not that Hirsch can't keep up with demand, just that they can't force strawberries to ripen ahead of schedule. "The problem with us is when we work with things like strawberries, by the beginning of April when it starts to get warm, people want to start tasting those summery flavors," Britton Bauer said. "But none of that stuff is ready till June, so we have to figure something else out." Last year, Jeni's began working with a farmer in Tennessee, Don Henry, who grows strawberries, blackberries, peaches and other fruits at his Nashville farm called The Orchard. "His growing season starts three weeks before ours," Britton Bauer said. "We're working directly with a good family farm and it allows us to get a jump-start on our production." Photos by Jodi Miller
HIRSCH FRUIT FARM
12846 St. Rte. 772, Chillicothe