Italian cheese ice creams have seen a bit of a revival in the last year or so, and with good reason: Mild or creamed cheeses function much the same way as cream does in recipes, delivering flavor to the palate and providing an interesting platform from which other flavors can be heightened. In other words, each bite is just insanely and compellingly delicious.
The trick to a successful cheese-based ice cream, however, is an extended whisking time once the cheese is added to the custard — off the heat. Like other cream-based sauces, with too much heat you run the risk of a granular texture, or of the base “breaking.” With too little heat, however, the cheese cannot fully melt and dissolve into the custard — oddly enough, resulting in the same granular texture from an overcooked cream base.
Don’t be daunted. I’ve written the directions to suggest that your whisking time — no matter how long you’ve been whisking and incorporating the cheese into the custard base — still isn’t long enough. Whisk some more, and then just a bit longer for good measure. If you find your custard is cooling too quickly, place the pan back over a low heat for a minute or two — just long enough to warm the custard base through. Then, off the heat, whisk a bit longer.
For macerated berries:
1 cup fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar (or according to sweetness of berries)
1 tablespoon rum
For remaining ice cream ingredients:
¾ cup milk
½ cup sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup Fontina cheese shredded
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¾ cup heavy cream
Optional crumb base:
¾ cup crushed vanilla wafers
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Macerate the blueberries in the sugar and rum in a non-reactive bowl for two hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator. Set aside.
Place the milk in a medium-sized, heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat. While the milk is heating, combine the sugar, cheeses, vanilla, and egg in a large mixing bowl and vigorously whisk.
Slowly add the scalded milk to the sugar-and-cheese mixture while continuously whisking. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously until the cheeses are completely melted and the mixture begins to thicken. Test for doneness by running your finger down the back of the stirring spoon. If a clear track remains, the custard is done. Your whisking is not.
Remove the pan from the heat and continue whisking the mixture for a good 5 to 8 minutes to fully melt and incorporate the cheeses into the custard. When you think the cheese is incorporated, whisk for about 3 or 4 minutes more. [Chef’s Note: Failure to fully melt and then incorporate the cheeses into the custard base will result in an unpleasant granular-like texture to your finished product.]
Pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Cover the surface of the custard mixture with waxed paper and place in the refrigerator to cool, about 2 to 3 hours. After the custard has cooled, separately whip the heavy cream lightly until limp peaks begin to form. Add the macerated blueberries and combine.
Remove the custard from the refrigerator. After you remove the waxed-paper cover, add the lemon juice. Gently fold in the lightly whipped cream-blueberry mixture.
Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and place in the freezer to harden, about 2 hours. The ice cream will become extremely hard and solid. Remove from the freezer and into the refrigerator at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour before serving.
Prepare optional crumb base:
In the bowl of a food processor, place the crushed vanilla wafers, butter, and vanilla. Process until the cookies become fine crumbs, and the butter and vanilla have been incorporated.
Place a ring mold on a chilled dessert plate. Spoon the crumb mixture into the ring mold, and using the back of a spoon or spatula, press to form to the mold. Carefully remove the mold. Place 2 scoops of ice cream on top of the base.
Alternatively, sprinkle the prepared cookie crumbs as a topping, and around a serving bowl as a garnish. Serve immediately.
Recipe and photo by Donna Marie Desfor