Folks head to Middletown from far and wide just to eat some ice cream. You may be thinking, say what now? But, this is no ordinary ice cream. In fact, I would dare to call Susanna's Ice Cream at Sweet Berry Farm craft ice cream. Others have called it the “Best Ice Cream in New England” (Yankee Magazine 2011). It’s made with local ingredients whenever possible, including beyond-fresh dairy products from Arruda’s Dairy Farms in Tiverton, where no BGH (Bovine Growth Hormone) is used, and produce from Sweet Berry Farm such as peaches, blackberries, apples and gooseberries.
What drives a person to create ice cream? What drives them to stick out 80-hour work weeks in 90-degree kitchens in the peak of summer heat? It’s love, pure and simple. And thankfully, owner Susanna Williams is up to the task; now I know what amazing ice cream is supposed to taste like, and there is no going back.
I have to spend a moment and tell you about the mastermind behind this operation. Sue was born in Devon, England, raised in nearby Gloucestershire, schooled at Oxford University (where she received her B.A. in English Language and Literature), then moved across the pond to Canada, where she entered into a Ph. D. program at McGill. Sue wound up teaching theatre history for many years at the National Theatre School of Canada. She was living in Montreal when she met her husband, Herb Zornow, who was teaching at the University of Toledo in Ohio. They decided to move to Newport, where Herb was raised, and settle down.
It was at the end of this circuitous route that she discovered Sweet Berry Farm and their crop of gooseberries. At the time, the gooseberries were being underutilized and Sue was familiar with this fruit from her childhood. “I have this aversion to waste,” she says. Coming from a family deeply rooted in dessert and jam-making, Sue knew just how to utilize this crop. So she started experimenting by whipping up ice cream in a one-quart Williams-Sonoma ice cream maker. Sue then convinced Sweet Berry Farm's owners that they needed to sell her ice cream. In 2006, the first batch of Susanna’s ice cream reached the shelf, or freezer rather.
“I put the first batch of ice cream on the shelf on the Fourth of July. I went home for lunch, came back, and the ice cream was gone! I thought to myself, What have I gotten myself into?” What she thought would be a leisurely, few-afternoons-a-week job quickly turned into full-time affair and has been going strong ever since. Her ice cream is so popular that she can hardly keep up with the demand in the peak of the season from July to September.
During this 80-hour week, she is not the only person in the kitchen. Without the help of fellow chef Steve Cory, she would not be as savvy in the kitchen as she is today. As Sue is not classically trained, Steve graciously took her under his wing to teach her kitchen etiquette.
How does one decide on what flavors to create? “Some are no-brainers like Strawberry, Vanilla, and Gooseberry,” she says. “Some are by personal request – Pumpkin, Cinnamon and Coconut, a best seller.” Other flavors, such as Mocha Chocolate Chip, are happy mistakes born from the distractions that come with the job. Also, Susanna never uses any artificial flavors such as high fructose corn syrup. The label of her French Vanilla Bean ice cream, for example, reads: cream, sugar, egg yolks, Madagascar Bourbon and Tahitian vanilla beans. It is the same for her other flavors. Her Dark Chocolate Ice Cream contains milk, extra dark Callebaut chocolate, Muscovado, cane sugars and vanilla. It doesn’t get any more natural than that.
Some new flavors she is experimenting with are Strawberry-Rose Geranium and Strawberry Daiquiri Sorbet. “Sorbet is fun. The fruit flavors come through much cleaner. I also use much more fruit in sorbet than ice cream. A batch of strawberry sorbet uses twice as many strawberries as an equal batch of strawberry ice cream.” Some popular summer flavors include Louisiana Banana, Toasted Coconut, Mango Sorbet and Raspberry Sorbet and Ice Cream.
With her unending passion, careful attention to detail and ridiculously fresh ingredients, Susanna’s Ice Cream remains a staple at Sweet Berry Farm for all Rhode Islanders to enjoy for years to come.
915 Mitchell’s Lane, Middletown. 401-847-3912
Open 8am-7pm everyday, sunshine or showers.