Inside JP Licks’ ice cream kitchen

August 1, 2014
By

While you’re grabbing a cone at the JP Licks counter, the little-known kitchen is whipping up the ice cream and experimenting with new flavors.

The kitchen in the company headquarters at 659 Centre St. makes at least 1,500 gallons of ice cream a day to sell there and at the 12 other branches around Greater Boston.

That’s on top of hand-packing ice cream cakes, baking the chain’s fresh pastries, prepping fresh ingredients like mint and peaches, and hand-making fudge in 40-gallon batches.

“We like to do it this way. It ensures freshness,” head ice cream maker Donald Hernstrom told the Gazette during a tour last week.

The kosher kitchen works on three or four flavors a day. The shop currently carries 21 regular ice cream flavors and six special July flavors, plus frozen yogurts, sorbets and sherbets. All have to be made every week.

The kitchen workspace is deceptively small—the size of a large living room—considering it produces stock for 13 storefronts. It includes a giant steam kettle for fudge and whisks the length of an arm.

Three freezers—one for storing ingredients and the others for prepping the ice cream—considerably expand its footprint.

The two ice cream freezers are required for two very different but equally important steps, Hernstrom explained.

When the ice cream comes out of six constantly-churning machines in 2.5-gallon batches, they are very runny, almost liquid. This allows for solid ingredients to be added, or swirls to be mixed in, by hand.

But then the ice cream must be stored at minus-10 degrees to harden.

It’s important to freeze at the right rate at the right temperature to prevent icicles forming in the ice cream, Hernstrom explained.

If the ice cream were set out for customers at that temperature, it would be rock-solid and unscoopable. So each store has a “priming freezer” to gently bring the ice cream up to serving temperature.

Hernstrom became an ice cream maker—or Dairy Product Engineer, as he calls it—after he and JP Licks owner Vince Petryk met in culinary school over 30 years ago, he told the Gazette.

“I always believed in having fun with what you do. We make people happy,” Hernstrom said.

Catering Manager Beth Otis joined the team over 20 years ago. Both were picking mint leaves by hand during the Gazette’s visit, prepping for one of August’s most popular flavors.

“Fresh mint is one of our most labor-intensive flavors,” Otis said. “So we only do five flavors [of the month] for August.”

Another upcoming flavor will be Squirrel Nut Zipple, a peanut butter ice cream with peanuts and buttery swirls, in honor of the JP Music Festival. The festival’s mascot is an albino squirrel.

Hernstrom said the kitchen likes to try “things that are off the beaten path”—such as previous featured flavors pad Thai, green tea and wasabi.

As for their favorite retired flavors?

Otis said hers is crème brulee. Hernstrom said his is cherry vanilla, or “White House” as it is known in his home state of Ohio.

“Vanilla ice cream is white, and cherry for the cherry trees at the White House,” he explained.

JP Licks runs a special every January, where newsletter subscribers vote for which flavors to bring out of retirement for that month’s specials.

“As long as we can source the ingredients, we’ll do them” Otis said.

CORRECTION: This article has been edited to correct the name of August’s flavor of the month.

(from left) Head ice cream maker Donald Hernstrom, ice cream maker Nathan Scheile and Catering Manager Beth Otis take a quick break in front of one of JP Licks’ hard-working ice cream machines on July 25. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

(from left) Head ice cream maker Donald Hernstrom, ice cream maker Nathan Scheile and Catering Manager Beth Otis take a quick break in front of one of JP Licks’ hard-working ice cream machines on July 25. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

  • rb

    Love this article. I never knew anything about how (or where) JP Licks made its ice cream.

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