Santa Cruz, CA: Why The Penny Ice Creamery is Michelle Obama's Favorite
Monday, May 13, 2013

When Michelle Obama recognizes the owners of a small ice cream shop located right off the main strip in Santa Cruz at the State of the Union, ice cream lovers everywhere should take notice.

The Penny Ice Creamery is one of the shining examples of the success of Obama's recovery plan. Founded in 2011, with a $250,000 government loan, Penny's embodies Michelle Obama's commitment to fresh, local, organic food prepared by small business owners. And it is Penny's strict adherence to these principles and their astonishingly popular thank you to the Obamas on Youtube that got them their invitation to one of the most exclusive political events of the year.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Penny's that SCOOP Blog discovered in our review is that they take freshness to a level beyond almost any other ice cream shop in California. Understanding why that is the case requires a little bit of interesting legal history. In California, unlike many other states, it is illegal for ice cream shops to make their own ice cream base, consisting of milk, cream, sugar, and often, eggs. Instead, ice cream shops must purchase their base mix wholesale from large farms, which have their own large pasteurization facilities. Penny's was not happy with the way this law affected its control over the final product, and the founders decided to creatively explore how they could source their own ingredients for a base and pasteurize in-house. After some research, they discovered they could buy their own pasteurizer and pasteurize at the shop, as long as they opened the shop up to state inspection several times a year. This process is costly and burdensome, but you can sure tell the difference in the final product! The only other shop we are aware of in CA that takes ice cream making to such a detailed level is Lottie's Creamery, in Walnut Hill (review coming soon!).
In Case You Didn't Believe Us About the Pasteurizer - We Have the Evidence.

Penny's makes a fantastic ice cream, and its in-house pasteurizer allows the shop to experiment with all sorts of unique milk blends, including integrating yogurt and mascarpone into their mix. Penny's ice cream is all French style, which means that all their flavors incorporate eggs into the base, which gives their ice cream an extra creamy richness. They specialize in unique flavors and blends of organic ingredients, often mixed to perfection. One stunning example of their mastery is the Mascarpone Hazelnut, which was a symphony on the tongue, really highlighting Penny's commitment to freshness. Another great example of Penny's artistic take on ice cream alchemy is the Yuzu Yogurt flavor, which is a cross between an ice cream and a frozen yogurt. Yuzu is a delicate Japanese citrus fruit, and this flavor brought out its floral character by perfecly balancing the citrus with the mild acidity of yogurt.

SCOOP Blog believes that Penny's is one of the best ice creameries in the US, but it still has so many great new flavors to explore, taking its craft to new levels. One thing we would like to see at Penny's, which would increase its score substantially in a future review, is a commitment to consistency. Several of the flavors we had at Penny's were revelations, but there were also several flavors that seemed uninspired, or just plain weird. For example, we tried the fig leaf flavor and found it to be an interesting experiment, but hardly something you'd want a whole bowl of. The cardamom with pistachio and chocolate chip also seemed quite disjointed. Though the cardamom flavor was great, the base was mysteriously un-creamy and watery, in contrast to Penny's other superb textured ice creams. The mix-ins also seemed off. The pistachio bits were hard, and the chocolate was extremely bitter. The chocolate, especially, did not seem to match. We believe this flavor has a lot of potential, but suggest Penny's take a much closer look at quality assurance, using uniform standards and tastings to ensure that flavors meet their typically high standards.
They Have a Small Kiosk On the Main Strip in Santa Cruz, Too.

Penny's is a really special creamery, on the forefront of the next generation of ice cream shops. If you live anywhere in the Bay Area, SCOOP Blog recommends making a special trip to Santa Cruz for their ice cream, and maybe you can even catch some waves later that day to burn off some of the calories! Oh, and while you are at Penny's, check out their Strawberry floats, a house specialty. We had several different kinds on our many visits, and they are very unique and tasty.

Flavor Tasting Notes

Penny's Keeps Their Flavors to a Minimum, to Ensure Quality - Just Nine!

Candy Cap

Candy Cap is a sweet, foraged mushroom. Since we first saw this flavor at Salt and Straw, it seems to be cropping up in other top shops. Penny's rendition had subtle maple notes, with slight saltiness. Super smooth cream, with good density.

Mascarpone Hazelnut

This flavor had a sublime mascarpone taste with a smooth, medium dense texture. Fresh hazelnut bits were incorporated, with an amazing, fresh hazelnut flavor.

Yuzu Yogurt

Our favorite flavor at Penny's, and one of the best ice creams we have reviewed in recent memory. Amazingly fresh yuzu (Japanese citrus) flavor. Smooth. Really delicate, balanced. Slight salty note. Yogurt is mixed into the base, but this is not froyo by any means. Surprisingly dense, and truly sublime.

Earl Grey

mild Earl Grey flavor. Smooth and balanced.

Bitter Caramel

Mildly bitter, but balanced. Deep, not overly sweet, caramel flavor. Smooth. Medium density, but good texture with springiness.

Jack Daniels Whiskey Custard

Great texture. Medium dense, but very creamy (as expected, for a custard). Divinely balanced whiskey flavor, which is not too boozy. Smooth and refined. Highly recommended - better whiskey base than Humphry Slocombe's Secret Breakfast flavor.

Cardamom Pistachio Chocolate Chip

Balanced cardomom base. Texture not as dense as could be. A bit thin and uncreamy. Mix-ins unintegrated, with hard pistachio and chocolate chunks. Really high cocoa content in chocolate almost thought it was cocoa nibs; so bitter - why?

Fig Leaf

Odd, subtle, vegetal flavor. Made with real fig leaves. Worth trying for the novelty. Good texture.

Cookies n Cream

Chocolate flavor is nice, and doesn't seem to be regular oreo. Bits of cookie were very tiny and in specks. We haven't had that style at such high end shop. Usually, there are larger cookie chunks, like at Franklin Fountain. Keeping the pieces of cookie small means the integration into the base works well, but this flavor doesn't really feel like a true cookies and cream.

Final Score: 8/10

The Penny Ice Creamery

913 Cedar St Santa Cruz, CA 95060