All of us have dream jobs, but it’s very rare for any of us to get a chance to see it come true. John Harrison, a master ice cream taster, is an exception. Harrison samples about sixty packages of ice cream for Edy’s Grand Ice Cream (known as Dreyer’s west of Colorado) on a day-to-day basis. The company has insured his taste buds for a cool million bucks (that’s $100 per taste bud) because they find his services very important.
Too good to be true? No. Harrison emphasizes, “It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.” In his thirty years of service, Harrison estimates that he’s sampled almost 200 million gallons of ice cream.
What makes you suitable for this job?
According to Harrison, “My great-grandfather had two ice cream and candy parlors in New York in 1880. My grandfather started the first dairy co-op in the state of Tennessee, and my father owned an ice cream ingredient factory in Atlanta. I grew up in the ice cream business—it’s one of those generational hand-me-downs.”
How does your average work day go along?
“I have sixty packages waiting for me every morning to taste before any product has been shipped out. It takes about four to five hours every morning to work through ice cream from the previous day. We do twenty different flavors a day, three samples for each flavor―one from the beginning, middle, and end of a production cycle.” Harrison explains.
How do you test the taste of the ice cream? Is there a protocol?
Harrison elaborates that he tastes with his eyes initially. If the ice cream doesn’t look delicious, he’ll just forget about the rest of it. He explains further by saying, “Then I let the ice cream temper about 10 to 12 degrees to maximize the flavor and get the full top note, bouquet, and aroma, and to avoid what the young people call brain freeze. I swirl the ice cream around in my mouth to coat all the taste receptacles, and then I spit it out. For tasting, I use a gold-plated spoon because wood and plastic have a slight resin aftertaste, and I need to avoid anything that could clog my taste buds.”
Do you have any personal hot summer months flavor?
“Definitely sherbet and sorbet products. Whole-fruit sorbets―mango, peach, strawberry, mandarin orange-passion fruit, and coconut―are delightful, healthful summertime treats. I like to add a little light vanilla ice cream to get a good dairy cream/fruit acid contrast,” Harrison answered.
How are light ice creams compared to regular?
Harrison explains, “Light ice creams should be well-rounded without a heavy cream taste. That way, they’re more refreshing and have a lighter texture than regular ice cream.”
Do you notice a difference in regional flavor preferences?
“Absolutely. Favorites among those in the South and Midwest include butter pecan and strawberry. New Englanders like coffee-based flavors, while California and the western states are more into chocolate variations. Vanilla is still the best-seller throughout the country, though,” answered Harrison.
Was there a time that you got tired eating ice cream?
Harrison gave out a light laugh, then said, “I’m like a 60-year-old kid because I still love ice cream. Sure, I’ve gained some weight in the twenty years I’ve been with the company, but who would trust a skinny ice cream tester?”