Tuesday, June 2, 2015

READER REVIEW: Elliiot's Review of McConnell's Vanilla Bean and Golden State Vanilla

Ice cream “purists” (I know a few still exist) opt for vanilla (unless, of course, they can sample pure base, which one typically cannot). Why? Because vanilla is a flavor that for the most part, is incapable of hiding flaws, be they “burnt” tastes from milk that’s been “cooked” or pasteurized at too high a temp or for too long, stabilizer tastes slickness, “off” flavors, "gotta have a sip of water,” etc. For these reasons and so many others (vanilla pairs with so many other things, etc.) to many, it’s a vanilla world.

McConnell’s' vanillas (Vanilla Bean and Golden State Vanilla) are great examples of what makes McC’s special. The flavors are incredibly clean, and offer a great story of a partnership that goes back over 55 years with vanilla purveyor, R.R. Lochhead. Perhaps the most well-known (to end-consumers) brand name in vanilla is Nielsen-Massey. There is another name, less well-known to consumers (because they never went into retail, as N-M have so effectively done over the years, but equally as well thought of and of equal quality in the vanilla world. It's the other, 100 year-old family business, Lochhead Vanilla.

Ray Lochhead was, in the 1950’s, the scion of the family. But instead of going into the family business, he decided to go West, to CalTech, to become a rocket scientist (!). When, after graduating, he decided to not go in that direction and to instead go back to the family business, he was forced to make a decision. In the time he’d been away, his cousins had taken over Lochhead. So, what Ray did, was form his own vanilla concern, in Paso Robles, California. He called it R.R. Lochhead. And he became a legend.

Ray was (is, he’s around 95 years old now, I believe) a maverick. He used to visit all the farms himself, flying around in his old, Piper Cub. He was one of the first Westerners to visit and work with the locals on Madagascar to establish joint farm projects. The list of firsts attributed to Ray is legendary. He was also the guy who, when Madagascar was gaining independence (finally) from the French in the early 1960’s, in the middle of the chaos (and potentially cut-off from supply) was the first to go to Tonga, Indonesia, Tahiti and establish vanilla farms in those places. He was a nothing less than a revolutionary.

In the early 1960’s, McConnell’s approached Ray about securing his vanillas for their ice creams. The rest is history, a partnership that has lasted for over 55 years, and one that has transcended generations. What is so wonderful about RR Lochhead vanillas? They are, simply, beautifully made, incredibly consistent in flavor and balance, and a perfect compliment to McConnell’s’ base. For years, RR Lochhead has formulated a specific “McConnell’s Blend” of primarily Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, with a touch of Indonesian or Tongan vanilla, depending on the flavor profile they’re going for. They use two-fold R.R. Lochhead vanilla in both their Vanilla Bean and Golden State Vanillas, in different ratios. As you see in the photos, they also mix vanilla beans into the base of their Vanilla Bean flavor.

The way the vanilla and the McC’s Sweet Cream base compliment each other. It’s just….magical. The Vanilla Bean pint is one that I've seen in stores more regularly, probably because the name is straightforward and the person ordering it for a store at the retail level doesn't often take the time to investigate what Golden State Vanilla might be. My personal favorite is the Golden State Vanilla. The floral aroma and assertive vanilla flavor is just what I'm looking for in a vanilla ice cream. It is more akin to what many think of as a classic "French" Vanilla, though both pints are technically a French Vanilla. The branding they use, calling it GS, may be a bit confusing to some.

Golden State Pint description:
Okay, we get it. People lose it for the French. Escargot, champagne. But French vanilla? Who ever visited France for vanilla ice cream? It’s time California staked a claim as vanilla titleholder. Take “Golden State Vanilla.” Sourced from our five decade partner, vanilla guru R.R. Lochhead®. Legit enough for ya’? “Au revoir,” fancy pants French Vanilla. Leave the ‘nilla to us.

GS is one of McC's most popular flavors, and as boring as vanilla may sound to some readers, when a classic is done right, we are reminded why it is a classic in the first place.

Where Elliot Found It: Straub's
Elliot's Grade: A for both

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