Finding the best ingredients to use in our ice cream isn’t always easy. Just ask our head chef, Ian Willa.
"Yeah, I spend a lot of time on the phone, or the Internet, looking for ingredients that we can feel great about, like domestically grown black sesame," Ian says. "I also like to ensure that ingredients we use a lot of, like vanilla, are grown and harvested in responsible ways, especially when we are buying imported goods." (We love our vanilla! It comes from Tonga, which strictly prohibits forced or child labor.)
But when it comes to cherries, we are fortunate to get the most amazing, rich, dark fruit from Washington’s Columbia Valley every year. We have a long-standing relationship with Dave Alberg of Alberg Cherry Farms. Dave’s orchard is currently supplying us with berries for our cherry chunk and vegan cherry chunk ice creams for the fourth summer in a row.
“There’s nothing better than cherry ice cream,” Dave says.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Ian took some time off from recipe testing and research to visit Dave and and his cherry trees.
Dave planted his orchard in the 1970s with his dad - he was only 14! At the time the cherries were the only thing growing on the hill, which now sits at the center of the 220-acre Stillwater Creek Vineyard. Dave prunes all 20 acres of cherry trees by hand. That’s about 1,000 trees, each of which produces around 100 pounds of cherries each season.
Aside from the cherries that go into our ice cream and what Dave saves for his friends and family, the rest of his cherries are sold at Pike Place Market. Dave has been a vendor at the market since 1980.
We use a mix of three different types of cherries for our ice cream: Bing, Lambert and Van cherries. In addition to the darker varieties of cherries that we use, Dave also has trees that grow Rainier cherries, wild sour cherries and apricots.
To keep the cherries juicy and plump, Dave picks his cherries at night. The heat of the Eastern Washington sun makes them shrivel up during the day.
Typically Dave and his friend, Mark pick all the cherries themselves. Ian helped out during his visit to the farm, and learned how Dave uses ski polls to get the job done. “I use this little ski poll to snag the branch and pull it down,” Dave says. “Then you can just pull the cherries off.”
Ian soon finds that, at 6'4," he can easily reach up and starts pulling the branches down with his hands. "I want as many of these cherries as I can get my hands on!"