When Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's began gaining popularity a while back, Dick Graeter, a third-generation ice cream maker for his family's Cincinnati-based chain of ice cream parlors, took it pretty well. "Those guys were promoting premium ice cream like it was new," says Graeter. "Ours has been premium for 129 years." Ice cream artisans have a long history in this country (New York shopkeeper Philip Lindsay first marketed his flavors in 1777), and today, great ice cream is easy to find—locally. But the Graeter clan (six Graeters are now involved) has managed to grow their company—to 12 parlors and a burgeoning mail-order business—yet maintain their homemade standard. Graeter uses the old-fashioned French pot-freezer method, which smooths the cream against the sides of a rotating freezer. Every half hour, each freezer (there are ten) turns out just two to three gallons.
Graeter's quest for good fruit symbolizes his dedication: His fussy search for prime peaches starts in the Carolinas in midsummer and moves north with the season, paying off with fresh peach ice cream. Earlier in the summer, he scours Oregon and Washington for black raspberries to go in his best-selling flavor, black raspberry chocolate chip. But his biggest triumph is the chocolate chips. The next four most popular flavors all include them: mint chocolate chip, vanilla chocolate chip, double chocolate chip, and mocha chocolate chip. How does Graeter explain their success? "No prefab chips," he answers. He starts with blocks of chocolate, melts them, pours the molten chocolate over the ice cream, and then breaks up the frozen mass by hand—yielding, as Graeter puts it, "chocolate chips you can really appreciate". Six pints is the minimum order (www.graeters.com).