THE FRENCH and Italians love to argue over whether what we now call ice cream began as glace or as gelato. But, at least according to Jeri Quinzio’s excellent book Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making, the big bang in the evolution of this frozen dessert happened in 1558 when an Italian scientist named Giambattista della Porta published a rudimentary recipe for sorbet that involved pouring wine into a flask, surrounding it with ice, and rotating it until the wine turned slushy. The result quickly became a party trick for the wealthy.
So let’s call Italians the inventors and the French, early adopters. But it was Americans who figured out how to create ice cream for the masses.
The first known European recipes were pretty basic: little more than solid blocks of frozen cream thickened by eggs and sweetened with sugar. Then came salt to lower the freezing temperature of the ice. Presto: a softer texture. But because ice was a rare commodity, ice cream remained largely the province of the elite. The process of bringing it to the people began when a Bostonian named Frederic Tudor invented a better insulation technique and pioneered the use of a horse-drawn ice plow. A hop, skip, and a curl later: Dairy Queen.
Lucky for us. Today, whether extruded from a machine or carefully handmade, ice cream remains gastronomy’s alchemy: with time and coolness, cream, sugar, and eggs become sublime. Not surprisingly, Portland chefs and entrepreneurs are stirring and turning their own versions of this creamy gold. What follows is a sampler of six Portland parlors you shouldn’t miss.