Is Manchester home to the UK’s best ice cream?
1 March 2021
His Sicilian Bronte Pistachio ice cream was placed in the top 17 products at the Great Taste Awards out of the 12,700 that were entered. Type ‘ice cream consultant’ into Google and the first result will be his Ice Cream Science blog.
Manchester's Ruben Porto is kind of a big deal when it comes to the cold stuff and his ice cream subscription business, Rogue Artisan Ice Cream, delivers across Manchester. We think it might just be the best ice cream we’ve ever tasted.
What lead to you starting an ice cream business in the first place?
I’ve always been interested in starting a business, in entrepreneurship, in food. I went out to the States in my second year of university and saw how big ice cream was over there. When I came back I started researching the science behind ice cream production and that’s how I started my blog, Ice Cream Science. I published all of my research on there, recipes, machinery reviews and that gave me the confidence to set up an ice cream business and off the back of that I started Rogue Artisan Ice Cream.
In a nutshell, what is the science behind ice cream?
It’s really about understanding the different phases of ice cream; the air; the ice; the non frozen phase; the fat phase and how the ingredients contribute to those four phases and how to manipulate them. So how to get the smallest ice crystals possible - they give you the smooth and creamy texture. How does fat affect those crystal sizes? How do stabilizers affect that? How does the freezing process, the dynamic freezing inside the ice cream machine and the static freezing from inside the blast chiller, how do those affect ice crystal growth? Then it’s about trying to optimize your production process to get the smallest and most numerous ice crystals possible.
I mean, who know there was so much to know about ice cream?
There are actually scientific journals around ice cream production. The Journal of Dairy Science publishes loads of research papers on ice cream.
So is it fair to say that you’re an ice cream nerd?
I am, very much so, I really enjoy the research part of it. At the moment I have two businesses - Rogue Artisan Ice Cream which is the production side and Ice Cream Science which is the research and consulting side. I get so many emails from people around the world, I went to Kuwait last year to do some consulting work for a startup. I also went to the USA for four days to work with a huge multinational company doing something interesting that I can’t talk about just yet.
What makes a good ice cream? Those tiny and numerous ice crystals?
Yes that’s what makes it smooth and creamy in the mouth so texture is key. That and flavour are the two most important points. Also recently I’ve noticed the nostalgia factor is huge, not just in ice cream but in food in general so eating something that takes you back to a happy time when you were younger really amplifies the eating experience.
I’ve got a cereal milk ice cream, that’s been such a huge flavour. You’ve got the nice smooth and creamy texture which is contrasted against the crispy, crunchy texture from the roasted corn flakes, the nostalgia takes you back to being a kid eating a bowl of cereal.
What is the best flavour that you make right now?
The most popular flavour would be the Sicilian Bronte Pistachio, probably because that’s the one that won the Golden Fork at the Great Taste Awards in 2018. That was a top 17 product of 12,700 food products that were entered. Also it’s really difficult to find a decent pistachio ice cream because pistachios are just so expensive. I import pistachios directly from a farmer in Sicily and the price I pay for them is just ridiculous but you can’t generate that flavour using pistachio flavouring and colouring.
When people try my pistachio ice cream they’re surprised at just how pistachio-y it tastes. Someone once told me it tastes more like pistachio than the nuts he buys from the supermarket! Salted caramel is also up there, it’s always going to be popular and also honeycomb although cereal milk is actually getting close.
Where can people buy your products?
I offer a subscription service where you get two 500ml tubs of different flavours every month, delivered across Manchester for £19. I’m also going to be working with a pizza chain in Manchester, a restaurant in Chorlton and a hotel opening up on Deansgate. Hopefully in the next few months people will be able to grab my ice cream in a few different locations.
Is it a challenge to make a good vegan ice cream?
Yes, a huge challenge. It took me 97 or 98 test batches to get may base sorted and I’m still not 100% happy with it! I use a mix of organic cold press coconut oil and an organic cold press vegetable oil, as my fat alternative. It still has a nice dense, smooth and creamy texture.
How’s the business going and what’s the ambition?
It’s going extremely well so far, thankfully. I’ve actually been busier since lockdown and membership is growing. I think people like food being brought to them and the interaction we have. People like to see who’s producing their food.
I think I would like a few small ice cream shops in Manchester, maybe around Leeds. I also want to continue building the research, development and consulting side, I enjoy all that stuff and travelling round the world helping businesses to set up.
So you’re kind of a big deal on the ice cream scene?
Without sounding like a douchebag, I am quite well known, I get a lot of interest on the blog. If you search ‘ice cream consulting’ on Google, I think I’m still number one! You’d be really surprised by how many people share my passion for creating a really, really good product. You’re always going to get people that want to make the best version of something, whether that’s the best version of a burger or a cheesecake… I just happen to be interested in making the best version of ice cream.
How close do you think you are to the perfect ice cream?
My recipes are always changing and I’m always coming across a new piece of research, whether it’s heating time and temperature combinations, I’m always testing and changing the flavours. Even my pistachio, a top 17 food of 12,700 food products and I’m still not happy with that, I want to reduce the amount of fat that’s in it, bring out the pistachio notes a bit more, make it less rich, a bit lighter to eat. I’m always developing and there’s always something to do. Not enough hours in the day, not enough sleep.
Sometimes it’s quite easy to get lost in this when you have a million and one things to do and every now and then it’s quite nice when I’m leaving my kitchen to look back and think wow, a couple of years ago there was nothing in there and now there’s something alive that I’ve created.
Rogue Artisan Ice Cream offers a subscription based ice cream delivery service across Manchester, visit rogueicecream.co.uk for more details. You can also find out more about the science behind ice cream on Ruben’s blog icecreamscience.com.