Monday, July 12, 2010

From kitchen klutz to ice cream aficionado

Yves Muselle and Judy Pigott sell premium ice cream from a parlour in Cowichan Bay. Photograph by Deddeda Stemler.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 12, 2010


When the city endures a record-setting heat wave, a columnist should write about those poor saps who tar roofs for a living.

Or we can skip temporal hades and instead enjoy thoughts of a refreshing frozen dairy treat.

We reached Judy Pigott at her home in Duncan to get the inside scoop on how she launched her business.

She was at a point in her life when she thought about starting a hobby. Her mother noted the amount of traffic going past the family home and said, “Holy Hannah, there’s a lot of people going by. You should make ice cream and sell it, Jude.”

It struck the daughter as a cool idea.

Her mother also came up with a name.

She had been in hospital in Victoria with a heart condition when her daughter came to pick her up and drive her home.

“Okay, we’re going to do this, mom,” the daughter said. “But we’ve got to have a name.”

The mother was in the backseat. The pair were laughing and giggling.

The daughter said, “We’re not Island Farms, we’re not Dairyland, we’re the other guys.”

“That’s it!” said the mother.

Thus was born The Udder Guy’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream, a name whose terrible pun and cow mascot informed customers about natural ingredients, while also fulfilling the industry’s apparent obligation for cutesy names.

She began by cooking custard on her own stove, experimenting with vanilla recipes until she came up with the right taste. The first commercial batches were even prepared in an ordinary ice-cream machine bought at Sears. It produced less than a litre of ice cream at a time.

Early on, the admitted kitchen klutz — “I’m not good as a Suzy Homemaker,” she says — discovered a good ice cream demanded more than just natural ingredients and good flavour. Science was involved.

The problem is making ice cream capable of lasting in the freezer for a long period of time. She surfed the Internet, talked to chemists, canvassed those with an expertise in all things ice cream. She decided she was not going to put into her product anything she would not feed to her grandkids. No artificial preservatives, or additives.

Ice cream needs air in it, otherwise it will be a solid block like an ice cube. With air, it also needs a stabilizer to prevent the buildup of ice crystals.

“They have all these guar gums and locust gums and agar gums,” she said. “Those are all natural products. I get that. But when was the last time you went out and chewed on a tree?

“Just because it’s all-natural doesn’t mean it’s natural for us to digest.”

She settled on carrageenan, a gel extracted from seaweed, which has been used in food for millennia.

A decade ago, her product hit store shelves, a rare Vancouver Island entry into a premium ice-cream market dominated by names like Haagen-Dazs (conjured to suggest old-world traditions) and Ben & Jerry’s (after founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield).

Oddly enough, she had first made ice cream at age 12, when she got an after-school job at the Jack and Jill Confectionary in Dawson Creek. She was born in Melfort, Sask., to a farming family which traced its lineage to both early North-West Mounted Police officers and to Metis rebels. Her family left the prairies to homestead at Cecil Lake in British Columbia’s Peace River country. She joined the other children in building the family’s log cabin, mixing mud and straw to plug the gaps between logs.

Her parents eventually ran a restaurant, where she waited tables, washed dishes,and peeled potatoes.

As an adult, Ms. Pigott got a university degree and became a teacher at a business college in Toronto. She later taught computer courses. At 62, she keeps the books for a Duncan hotel and operates the ice cream business with Yves Muselle, whom she describes as her life and business partner. Mr. Muselle can often be found dishing scoops at the Udder Guy’s parlor on the main street in scenic Cowichan Bay.

The company features 24 flavours, from Zesty Ginger to Wild Blackberry, the berries handpicked from backroads bushes. The Udder Guy’s tubs are sold at more than 100 stores in the province, including as far afield as the Co-op at Sointula on Malcolm island. It is on the menu at the tony Union Club in downtown Victoria, as well as at the nearby Pink Bicycle restaurant.

The proprietor has a confession: “I’m not much of a junk-food eater.” Her indulgence is an occasional dish of chocolate ice cream, which she developed to taste exactly as she remembered the flavour of a favourite treat as a child.

I scream

The delights of a summertime ice cream persist in memory.

The family in the neighbouring apartment owned a car, so on muggy evenings four kids in pajamas would pile in for an expedition to Dairy Queen on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighbourhood, the little curl atop the cone a visual treat to be demolished by eager tongues. Farther away was Elmhurst Dairy with Sealtest ice cream, a landmark because of its billboard featuring the three-dimensional heads of a pair of cows (named Elsie and Elmer).

Later, there would be a pilgrimage to the New Brunswick dairy capital of Sussex, where locals claim the ice-cream cone was invented by a baker. In those stinking hot months when the Manitoba capital is not known as Winterpeg, locals flock to the Bridge Drive-In and, when the lines are too long, the Banana Boat.

It was just our luck that a year after we moved away from living in the shadow of the Hastings Viaduct in V6A, Vince Misceo opened La Casa Gelato down the street at Venables Street and Glen Drive. He started with 40 flavours, has gone beyond 500, and always has at least 218 available, in case you’re hankering for curry, or ginger, or some other exotic flavour.

More recently, expeditions to Hornby Island, featuring the Denman Island dash to the Gravelly Bay ferry terminal, ended with a giant sugar cone with a delight dished from Jacquie’s Wild Fruit and Ice Cream caravan.

No comments: