As with many foods “invented” before the widespread documentation and dissemination of information, the “origin” of ice cream is in much dispute with several claimants seeking credit. Several of those origin stories are rather romantic in nature, mired in folklore and legend. Among the historic people to whom the invention or introduction of ice cream have been incorrectly ascribed are King Solomon, Nero, Catherine de’ Medici, Montezuma and even King Charles II. These origin stories are early examples of the fake news so prevalent in modern journalism.
Culinary historians agree the progenitor of ice cream as we know it today was based on sweetened water that was iced, ground into little pieces then decorated with various tasting toppings and fruits. The expensive transportation of ice and snow from often distant mountains to the cities limited the widespread propagation of frozen ice teats. It took technological advances across the millennia to make ice cream available to the masses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans consume an average of 23 gallons of ice cream each year (so it’s not just President Biden). Classic vanilla is the most popular flavor under spacious skies, accounting for more than 26 percent of the country’s ice cream sales. A study released in July 2021 (just in time for National Ice Cream Day on July 18) revealed, however, that Americans are increasingly branching out to other favorite flavors, including moose tracks, rocky road, coffee, birthday cake, and green tea.
In 1991 when Rhode Island native Jamie Leeson moved to Taos for the winter, his plans were to enjoy the heavy snowfalls produced by a prolific El Niño before returning to law school. Schussing and free-styling down the snowy slopes as often as he could, he decided to put off law school for another year. With a second powerful El Niño dropping near record snow on Taos, he discovered he had no desire to leave Taos and that he no longer wanted to become a lawyer. Unfortunately the part-time jobs–primarily waiting on tables–that supported his love for skiing weren’t a sustainable career path.
Fortunately, a local pizza shop owner who branched out to producing ice cream decided he wasn’t very good at it and offered to sell his business–a cow logo, ice cream making equipment and leftover pint containers. Leeson and his then-roommate Todd Fortunate saw a way to remain in Taos. They pooled their personal savings and purchased Taos Cow for $20,000. Their baptism by fire–learning how to make ice cream–wasn’t an immediate success. In fact, they could no longer afford a ski pass. Over time, they developed several Southwest-inspired ice cream flavors and opened a shop in the village of Arroyo Seco, a dichotomous idyll that’s both bustling and tranquil.
Taos Cow initially produced hand-packed tubs of ice cream wholesale for local restaurants and grocery stores. As the business grew, Taos Cow established a shop on the winding Arroyo Seco, just past the 20mph sign that slows traffic through the heart of the village. Eventually, pints of Taos Cow could be found at retailers in fifteen states. Attempts to roll out Taos Cow on store shelves nationwide didn’t prove fruitful; Taos Cow could not compete with undercutting national brands such as Haagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s. Expansion–aside from our waistlines–plans remain ambitious though more local.
Visit Arroyo Seco any time of the year and you’re likely to see long lines of customers queued at a counter to order everything from reputedly the best Reuben in Northern New Mexico to hues rancheros to scoops of the very best ice cream along the Rocky Mountains. Taos Cow. In keeping with Arroyo Seco’s somewhat slow pace, savvy ice cream fanatics enjoy a scoop or three alongside the babbling brook where a number of benches and chairs have been set up. There’s no better way to enjoy ice cream.
In 2013, Fox News declared Taos Cow one of the “ten best ice cream parlors worldwide.” Similar accolades have been earned by such national media giants as the New York Times and Bon Apetit. It’s simply the best!