Avocado, cayenne pepper, lobster, local brews among the many unusual ingredients Maine ice cream makers are scooping up

Posted July 22, 2014, at 1:54 p.m.
Last modified July 23, 2014, at 10:58 a.m.

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Going to the garden for fresh herbs, reaching into the pot for a Maine-caught crustacean and raiding the brewery for a seasonal ale — these sound like activities that would take place in a commercial kitchen, not an ice cream stand.

But, like chefs, bakers and mixologists before them, ice cream makers are thinking outside the carton for the flavors they are creating to satisfy a more adventuresome public.

From habanero-spiked berry to beer accented with fruity candy, artisan ice cream makers are stepping up their game in the all-crucial and micro-packed season of the cone.

“Ice cream is a blank slate. There are more and more consumers that are willing to try flavors outside the box,” said Lindsay Clendaniel, a Maryland blogger whose book “Scoop Adventures: The Best Ice Cream of the 50 States” came out in March.

In Maine right now, there is no shortage of out-there varieties to sample. Here are five of the funkiest.

Rococo Artisan Ice Cream, Kennebunkport

Flavor: Sweet Avocado Cayenne

Tastes like: A rich and gently sweet smoothie with a slow burn

Ice cream maker: Lauren Guptill

Here’s the scoop: Inspired by an avocado milkshake she had in Brazil, Guptill makes her ice cream in the style of gelato at her three-year-old shop in the heart of Kennebunkport. “It has less air, is not as whipped and is dense,” she said. That density is the perfect canvas for flavor. Using fresh avocados and local wildflower honey to counteract the hit of cayenne, the 30 year-old Berwick native attracts a steady stream of vacationers seeking what’s new and now. “You have to distinguish yourself and make something people have never tasted,” she said.

Honorable mention: Sunfish and Candied Ginger. Sweet ginger and apricots are the perfect garnish to this beer-forward collaboration with the Kennebunkport Brewing Company. The local brewer’s Sunfish Wheat Ale is the chief ingredient. “This is a new flavor profile for us,” Guptill said. “These are the flavors to order when you want to go for it. That’s the fun of the shop.”

Gelato Fiasco, Portland and Brunswick

Flavor: Cucumber Lime Cilantro

Tastes like: A summer cocktail like “the Garden Party at In’finiti,” said owner Josh Davis, who developed the flavor and later realized its similarities to his favorite beverage at Portland’s In’finiti Fermentation and Distillation bar on Commercial Street.

Here’s the scoop: “A couple years ago, an employee ran a CSA [community supported agriculture program] and had a huge crop of cucumbers,” said Davis, who co-founded Gelato Fiasco in 2007 with a fellow Bentley University alum. He added fresh herbs from his garden in Bath, and “a really refreshing flavor” was born. “We ended up making more, due to demand,” he said. But this cool, sophisticated sorbetto, which also pairs well with oysters, is as limited as a chalkboard special. “We just got our first batch of cucumbers,” he said. “It’s a sign that the summer is here.”

Honorable mention: Gin and Juice. Inspired by Snoop Dogg’s Portland show earlier this month, its a bright twist on the classic sip.

Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium, Bar Harbor

Flavor: Lobster Ice Cream

Tastes like: Vacationland in a cone. Great marriage of salty and sweet.

Ice cream maker: Ben Coggins

Here’s the scoop: “In the early ’80s, a couple from New York came in and said we had the perfect store in town, except we didn’t have lobster. I told them, ‘Come back tomorrow, and I will try to fix that,’” co-owner Coggins said. Since then, his buttery vanilla ice cream with chunks of cooked Maine lobster has lured boat and busloads of tourists to his door. “We have a lot of Asian visitors now, and they love everything with seafood. It appeals to the daringness of people now. Everybody’s experimenting all over the place. It’s an exciting time to be in the food industry,” he said.

Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, Portland and Bar Harbor

Flavor: Sweet Basil Coriander Streusel

Tastes like: A day at Old Orchard Beach

Ice cream maker: Linda Parker

Here’s the scoop: This popular artisan ice cream shop that’s attracted Food and Wine magazine and POTUS himself traffics in diversity. This newly debuted flavor blends crumpled up bits of homemade-streusel with basil, coriander and homemade blackberry swirl, and it tastes like a carnival meets a state fair. It’s surprising to learn it was inspired by the garden. “Those are my two favorite herbs, I thought it would add a really nice nuance to the sweetness of the ice cream,” Parker said, adding the crumble gives it “a layered taste.” Parker doesn’t shoot for sensation when she fuses ingredients like wasabi with chocolate. “I try not to pair things that are too unexpected and take flavors in a different direction,” she said. Mission accomplished.

Catbird Creamery, Westbrook

Flavor: Tamari Caramel

Tastes like: Salted caramel turned up an octave

Ice cream maker: Andrew Warren

Here’s the scoop: Husband-and-wife team Corey Digirolamo and Andrew Warren are waking up Westbrook. For four years, their hand-crafted creamery has been attracting food sleuths looking for more kapow in their cup. Their new take on salted caramel ice cream uses Japanese soy sauce instead of salt for “a bigger taste profile in your mouth,” Digirolamo said.

Honorable mention: Furious George. This hot pepper and caramelized banana ice cream would delight the Man with the Yellow Hat’s favorite furry friend.