SCOUT OUT: Tipping Cow Ice Cream at Union Square

tipping cow

Our farmers market correspondent takes a look behind the products found at Somerville farmers markets. This week: Tipping Cow Ice Cream, which you can find Saturdays in Union Square.

Holding a frosty little paper cup of ice cream in your hand on a hot New England summer day, pulling its lid off and digging into creamy heaven is a delight no matter what age you happen to be. Anna Ghaul’s Tipping Cow Ice Creams are satisfying in this timeless way, made with pure, rich ingredients, filled with flavors that bring a host of other culinary delights into the ice cream carton. Sweet corn, dark chocolate & sea salt, strawberry basil, Earl Grey & lemon–the only question is, how many minis and pints can you eat before they melt?

Behind the scenes, in the warm kitchen of a community center in Cambridgeport, Anna Ghaul squeezes a huge pastry piping bag oozing with coconut ice cream, freshly extracted from the small batch mixer on the counter, into a row of snappy red pint containers with the Tipping Cow logo she drew by hand. Twenty-five-year-old Ghaul’s smile never stops as she works, her cheeks flush with enthusiasm and whisps of bleached hair falling over her glasses and twinkling eyes. Explaining the name of her company, beyond the naughty act of sneaking up on an unsuspecting upright cow and pushing it over for kicks: “I guess I’ve never done things the normal way, so ‘tipping’ also seems to fit me too–a little off-kilter is good.”

Two days of ice cream studies at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts left Gaul smitten. “Ice cream is a really good vehicle for whatever flavor combination you want,” she discovered. For graduation, her parents gave her a tiny ice cream maker, and she started experimenting with flavors. By the next summer, 2014, Tipping Cow had its first season underway.

Finding kitchen space at the Cambridge Community Center, which Gaul rents hourly, was a windfall. “Kids are running around here all the time, they’re doing karate in the next room, it’s a little crazy–but it’s great!”

Nonetheless, she’s excited to move into her own kitchen space in Medford within the year. After renovations are complete, she’ll increase production and expand her list of wholesale distribution. Ghaul’s culinary focus is on pure ingredients and creative, bold flavors. “I try to use whatever I get fresh. Honestly in the summer fresh basil is the best thing in the world, so that’s what I use in our Strawberry Basil ice cream.” It’s a hit–no wonder.

Many of Tipping Cow’s flavors have been inspired by other dishes–milk tea that led to the Earl Grey & lemon flavor, a favorite pie that led to gingerberry. Others are familiar flavors combinations, but unusual to experience in ice cream: Irish stout, red rooibus chai, cinnamon oatmeal, olive oil, vanilla buttermilk, espresso.

“People are surprised when they try some of the unusual flavors, like sweet corn that we do in summer–lots of people say, ‘Corn in ice cream? Sounds weird!’ and then they taste it and love it.” Interacting directly with customers at markets is clearly one of Ghaul’s favorite aspects of her work. “Families come to the markets and getmini cups to eat on the spot, then they come back again next week,” she explains about her regulars.

Farmers markets are more than friendly events, they have also been crucial for Ghaul’s business, and inspiration. “Everyone there is an entrepreneur–it’s a whole network of local doers. Everyone’s really supportive of each other. Even if you’re not talking about business, you share ideas.”

Last year Ghaul’s ice cream stall was next to Apex Orchards from Shelburne Falls. “We were chatting and I said, ‘Hey I want to do something with apples’–and they brought some the next week for me!” Ghaul’s radiates like she just won the jackpot. “I used them and realized this is way better than apples I get anywhere else–and healthier.” Now, she gets about 40lbs of apples from Apex in the summer for her apple cider sorbet.

Soluna Garden Farms, another farmers market vendor, supplies dried herbs and teas for the ice creams in winter and stocks pints and minis throughout the year.

“Markets are great advertising,” Ghaul’s says, explaining that most of the retailers who carry Tipping Cow pints and mini cups first approached her at the farmers market. Since the markets fill her craving for customer interaction, Ghaul’s is excited to balance her business with wider wholesale distribution to local markets and small specialty food stores. “I like the wholesale aspect,” Ghaul says, “you can reach a lot more people without the stress of running your own storefront.”

Tipping Cow pints and minis can be found on shelves at Fromaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, The South End Buttery in Boston, American Provisions in Boston, The Spirited Gourmet in Belmont, Fleck in Newton, Joppa Fine Foods in Newburyport, and at Soluna Garden Farms in Winchester.

And to say hello in person, this summer you can find Anna and her team at the Union Square Farmers Market, the SOWA market, and the Watertown Farmers Market. Back at the Community Center kitchen, a new flavor is in progress, commissioned by The South End Buttery as part of a seasonal restaurant special. The new Coconut flavor, made from thick, pure coconut paste, will soon be added to Tipping Cow’s regular line of production. Ghaul emphasizes the “we” in her business, quick to give credit to all the friends who help out. Her boyfriend, who spends hours standing on a chair pouring ice cream base into the freezer during production, over his shoulder, “I do quality control too.” Roommates and friends pitch in to run market stalls. “Our friends have been so supportive–we probably would have gone crazy if they hadn’t helped us.”

In an average production night, Ghaul and her boyfriend run about 13 batches–80 pints worth–through the freezer, waiting for each to churn and then piping the soft-state ice cream by hand into pint containers and minis. Milk, cream, sugar and egg yolk make the base, pure and decadent. “You can add most anything and it won’t change the consistency” Ghaul says. Tea, cocoa powder, fruits, or herbs are cooked into the milk, bringing out flavors, then strained out as the mixture thickens into a custard and is cooled and refrigerated overnight. “There’s very little air in this ice cream, which makes it a richer, gelato-style ice cream. But that also means a lot more ingredients go into every pint,” Ghaul explains.

One small freezer mixes and churns batches of just seven pints at a time. While we wait, Ghaul takes a mini and a spoon. She giggles and whispers, “I eat ice cream every time I’m here.” Once piped into pint and mini cups, the ice cream hardens in a chest-sized travel freezer on wheels, which Ghaul loads into her car for deliveries or to take to market. Because they don’t use stabilizers, even 15 minutes out of the freezer can ruin the ice cream. “At markets on hot days people ask me, ‘Can I make it home with a pint in my bag?’ I say, ‘Just eat it now!’”

Ghaul clearly knows how to enjoy her process and her product, with a healthy sense of timing. “I learned not to be afraid to change my mind, and change it again. Right now I’m just focusing on being flexible, paying attention to what I like and what I’m good at.” Ghaul tilts her head up reflectively and smiles. “I’m really attracted to the personal aspect of food – to making it myself, selling it myself, keeping it in the community. I love the small-batch, handmade aspect. For me it’s connected to art.”

This piece was originally published in Edible Boston.