With roots in Portland, Oregon, Salt & Straw is reimagining the ice cream shop. You’ll find the standbys—from old-fashioned vanilla to brownie-loaded chocolate—at the company’s 15 West Coast locations. But they’re nestled alongside new school takes: cold brew dashed with cacao nibs; strawberry with balsamic and a crack of black pepper; or chocolate chip cookie dough, but with salt and malted chocolate.
Cheese finds its way into the dipping cabinet, too. For Salt & Straw co-founder Tyler Malek, cheese isn’t limited to savory preparations. “I’m not sure I’ve ever considered cheese a ‘savory’ ingredient,” he says. “Think about some of the most classic and delicious cheese dishes you’ve ever had: chèvre with a drizzle of honey; white cheddar with a slice of apple; cheesecake, for goodness sake!”
There’s the classic pear and blue cheese ice cream in Portland, and goat cheese with black olive in Los Angeles. One flavor at the San Francisco shop has a base of Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, then it’s dappled with toasted bread and homemade jam.
In a recent collaboration series, the Salt & Straw team worked with chefs on inventive flavors—including Roasted Beet and Humboldt Fog with Chef Brian Malarkey of San Diego’s Herb & Wood. Here, Malek tells us about how they churned a classic California cheese into a scoopable summer treat.
What made you decide to work with Humboldt Fog in this ice cream?
This flavor was born from an incredible partnership with Brian Malarkey in San Diego. The best part of the collaboration was working on finding ingredients and techniques that truly highlight his style of cooking.
In this case, Humboldt Fog is a cheese he uses often in his restaurants. We wanted to make a flavor that had an intense tension of acid and funk. We flavored it with a heavy hand of champagne vinegar and green apples to balance out that cheese.
What about Humboldt Fog makes it work well for ice cream?
Humboldt Fog is perfect for many reasons. One, the flavor structure is so distinct. It helps to have a cheese that can distinguish itself so strongly even when we’re freezing it—dulling its flavors—and covering up the flavor with so much fat and sugar.
Second, Humboldt Fog is so well known in California. It’s a cheese that you can write up on your menu and customers know what to expect; that brand is huge when we’re working on such provocative ice cream flavor profiles.
What are your recommended toppings or sides for this flavor?
It’s funny, this is one of the only ice creams I’ve ever made that I would recommend not pairing or topping with anything.
What’s so unique about this ice cream is that the flavors build and transform as you take every bite. After your first spoon, you taste five ingredients deep; after your third spoon, you start tasting the 10th, 11th, 14th flavor deep! It’s an insane experience to eat a full pint of this ice cream and I would hate to alter that with toppings.
What makes cheese a fun ingredient to use in ice cream?
Most cheeses we get to work with have so much complexity and intensity. When we bolster that flavor with a bit of sugar and bolster the fat to make it into ice cream, all we’re doing is creating a canvas for that cheese to shine through even stronger.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.