Cold, hard and oh so sexy

As a born and bred New Englander, Loyd Grossman didn't have to wait until the arrival of Haagen-Dazs to know what constituted truly great ice-cream

Ice-cream is the food of the gods, heroes and all laudable folk, a food of immemorial antiquity. The primitive forerunners of ice- cream were reputedly much loved by Chinese emperors and Roman despots. Catherine de Medici - the supergirl of food history - supposedly introduced the French to the pleasures of iced puddings. While the French and Italians refined ice-cream in the 18th century, the United States became the locus classicus of great ice-cream and home of all the landmark innovations from the cone to Rocky Road.

I was lucky enough to grow up near Boston, Massachusetts, a city blessed with the highest per capita ice-cream consumption in the world. The rules about good ice- cream were few, but iron-clad:

1. Good ice-cream was bought, not made at home, though, paradoxically, any good store-bought ice-cream was always praised as tasting "home-made".

2. The best ice-cream came from establishments that were named after the proprietor - often overweight and usually ill-tempered - who could be seen fussing over his ice-cream machines in the background.

3. Pre-packed ice-cream was for suckers only. Real aficionados insisted on buying their ice-cream packed into tubs and weighed. One pint of ice- cream weighed a pound.

4. Making ice-cream was a man's business. With the exception of the legendary Abby Mae, all great ice-cream makers were men.

5. Soft ice-cream was only for children or foreigners.

Then the conservative world of ice-cream was turned upside down. Big manufacturers began to reproduce the style of craftwork ice-cream. Dense and heavy ice-creams with strong, clear flavours and dizzying price tags began to appear in supermarkets, and the small artisanal makers began to be overwhelmed by the marketing and advertising muscle of the big boys.

Haagen-Dazs - a newfangled New York brand with a made-up name and provenance - convinced the world that high-ticket ice-cream was an indispensable part of smart urban living. Suddenly, ice-cream was sexy - something we New Englanders had always known, even though we wouldn't have quite put it in those words. Ben and Jerry, meanwhile, offered a more homespun, ageing-hippie approach to the peddling of luxury ice-cream (which appeals particularly to ageing hippies like me). Both brands established the fact that people in Britain will pay for real ice-cream rather than making do with those blocks of emulsion-yellow transmogrified pig's fat that used to be a British summertime treat.

Happily, an increasing number of British luxury ice-creams are following in the American footsteps and making their way into the shops. There has also been a simultaneous explosion of DIY ice-cream culture thanks to the new generation of ice-cream machines that plug in, turn on and churn out a litre of irreproachable fat and sugar in about half and hour. My children and I can now happily concoct ice-cream out of leftover Christmas puddings, bits of broken biscuits and whatever else lurks in the back of the kitchen cupboard.

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