Soft Serve Sucks

I joined Daniel B. of FUSSYlittleBLOG and several other intrepid ice cream eaters for the Tour de Soft Serve 2.0. We toured five soft serve ice cream stands in Clifton Park, Ballston Spa, and Saratoga, getting a cup or cone at each location. With careful consideration, we recorded our thoughts about each one. Dipping spoons in cups and licking cones, we tasted and we tested. It was a lot of fun. It was a great group of people and I had a blast.

I’ve never been a big fan of soft serve ice cream. I eat it, but when I crave ice cream, I go for hard ice cream. Soft serve just doesn’t compare to real ice cream. Yes, I said real ice cream. Soft ice cream, in my opinion, is just not that great.

Soft serve is a seasonal treat. It’s inextricably linked to summer. It’s wholly a part of summer. My childhood memories are filled with trips to soft serve stands, and included in those memories are swimming, swelteringly hot days, and cookouts. Just as no summer is complete without trips to the beach or pool, or cookouts and picnics, no summer would be complete without enjoying a cool, creamy, and crunchy, soft serve ice cream cone.

But does anyone ever crave soft serve in the winter? I eat ice cream year round. Hard ice cream. And I’m sure you do too, as do most. But once the leaves turn brown and fall off the trees, soft ice cream disappears from the mind. Because without all the experiences of summer, soft serve melts into a puddle of meaninglessness. Without summer there’d be no soft serve stands. Without summer there’d be no soft serve period.

We’ve all eaten something and afterward think to ourselves, “Man, I’ve got to have that again!” We’ve all eaten foods that leave an impression, dishes that are memorable. Maybe it was a great dessert that was so good you couldn’t wait to talk about it and you were still thinking about it days or even weeks later. I’ve had memorable experiences while eating soft serve, but I’ve never had a memorable soft ice cream cone. They all fade into oblivion. All of them.

There are those who make ice cream that take their craft very seriously. Great ice cream, like anything, is both an art and a science. There’s a ton of creativity, and innovation happening in hard ice cream and similar products like gelato and sorbet.

Daniel picked five of the best soft ice cream stands in Saratoga County. My hope was that going to five of the best, at least one would stand out as exceptionally good. There has to be at least one that’s taking soft serve and elevating it, raising the bar through innovation, creativity, and dedication to craft.

Nope. None. Not even one.

Ask 10 different people in the Capital Region who makes the best soft serve and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. It’s fair to assume their opinion is based more on fond memories related to the experience than the ice cream itself. Because although there are differences between one stand and the next, and of course some are selling a better product than others, there’s none that are raising the bar. There’s not a single local place that stands out from the crowd. And the differences between them are for the most part subjective.

And that’s fine. But that’s my point. Soft serve is about the experience of eating ice cream at an ice cream stand on a hot summer day with friends and family. It’s not about the ice cream. Just as no one eats a hamburger because of the bun, no one eats soft serve because of the ice cream. We eat soft serve because it’s a fun summer thing to do. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that in the least.

But take soft serve ice cream out of summer. Strip away the experience, and judge soft ice cream strictly on the merits of whether it’s good ice cream or not, and I think you’ll agree with me…

Soft serve sucks.

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