Back in the distant past (May), I made some Nutella and did a taste test with four friends. This is the bigger, better version of that. Instead of four samples, we had six. The test was done over three occasions and completed by ten people. I had typed up forms and spreadsheets and labelled ramekins and Pellegrino palate cleansers. I can't even approach some ice cream without acting geeky.
I decided to test vanilla ice cream because it's such a versatile and important component of so many desserts and sundaes. A scoop of really nice vanilla can transform a pudding. It's also easy to make but difficult to perfect.
Last time the texture of my homemade Nutella gave the game away and so the test lost the anonymity. This time I added in a little post-testing quiz to see if my participants could match them up and the vast majority of guesses were wrong - so at least I know they were only going on what they tasted rather than if their answer would upset me! To throw an extra spanner into the works I made two ice creams myself: a custard based French version (recipe below) and an eggless American version (as I've made before).
I then bought four others. First I chose three big UK brands from the supermarket: upper range Häagen-Dazs; middle range Carte d'Or; and low range Kelly's Cornish. In Oxford, G&D's is the famous place to go for ice cream - they have three ice cream cafes in various locations. To add another dimension, I picked up a tub of their 'home made premium ice cream'.
Each tester had a sheet with sections to comment, score out of ten and then guess the price range for each ice cream.
And so, with no further ado, the average scores out of ten:
1 = Homemade French (7.2)
1 = Carte d'Or (7.2)
3 - Homemade American (6.6)
4 - Häagen-Dazs (6.3)
5 - Kelly's Cornish (5.6)
6 - G&D's (4.2)
I also got people to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how expensive they thought each ice cream was. Interestingly, the table related exactly with the one above (with Carte d'Or in clear 1st). I was surprised at how clearly people immediately associated their favourites with expense.
The actual prices were quite different - Carte d'Or, the equal first in the scores and perceived to be the most expensive, was actually the second cheapest. The most expensive, G&D's, had both the lowest scores and price expectation. I have a theory that the G&D's tub might have been from a bad batch or been left out to defrost or something else as I've always enjoyed it before. Though I do usually taste it when it's been drenched in espresso, which would drown out the odd 'mushroomy' aftertaste (see below).
If you want to check out all the scores and stats in detail, they're on google docs here.
Finally, some of my favourite comments:
"Interesting aftertaste (mushroomy)."
"It tastes of vanilla, and is cold."
"More yellow than the others"
"Fruity flavours. Strawberry and banana."
French Vanilla Ice Cream
(From David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop)
250ml whole milk
150g caster sugar
500ml double cream
pinch of salt
1 vanilla pod
6 egg yolks
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
Put the milk, sugar, salt and half the cream into a medium saucepan. Warm it all up together. Split the pod in half and scrape the seeds out and put into the saucepan. Turn off the heat and leave to steep for 30 minutes. Pour the rest of the cream into a big bowl and put a sieve over the top.
In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Pour some of the milk slowly into the eggs, whisking constantly. Then tip it all back into the saucepan and stir constantly over a medium heat. Scrape down the sides and bottom as you go. It's ready when the mixture coats the back of the spatula. Pour through the sieve into the bowl and stir it in. Stir until cool over an ice bath. Scrape into a jug and add the extract and the pod from the sieve. Cover with cling film and leave to chill in the fridge overnight. Churn according to the instructions with your ice cream maker.
(Makes 1 litre)