In all of the years I’ve been writing Don Day in SMA, I’ve never re-posted a blog. Until today. And not just because I’m feeling lazy (but, yes, that did play a part).
I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about ice cream in San Miguel de Allende lately. I suppose it’s because heat waves bring thoughts of cold cravings. Some of my favorite ice creams have been mentioned…Ambrosia, Santa Clara, Calica, Ben & Jerry’s, Thrifty, Haagen Daaz…but one wasn’t. And it’s a little guy, a local guy that I suspect some people who scream for ice cream in this town may have never heard of. So I decided to write something new. I pulled out my old files and reread what I’d written a few years ago. I thought that’s almost exactly what I’d like to write today. And, as hardly anyone even knew my blog existed when I first wrote about it, here it is:
When Don Day was still growing up…or perhaps more sideways than up…the biggest treat in the world was a trip to The Stoney Creek Dairy, the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada version of butterfat nirvana. It required a birthday, a couple of A’s on a report card, or, if Don Day was really lucky, just a sticky, sweaty July night for Don Day’s Dad to say, “OK, everybody in the Olds, we’re going for triple scoops.”
When kids are still growing up in Fraccionamiento La Luz, a residential neighborhood in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the biggest treat in the world is a trip to Jimmy, their local version of ice cream nirvana. It doesn’t require wheels, for usually, it’s only a hop, skip and jump over a couple of cobblestoned blocks.
On a lot of Saturdays in San Miguel de Allende, Don Day goes to the market. Not the Rosewood Organic Market but the La Luz not even close to organic Market. If you’ve ever wondered where your favorite fruit and veg stalls or that juicy carnitas stand goes when they’re not at the Tuesday market, you just might find them here. After the market, Don Day walks two blocks to see his favorite butcher, Alberto at Carniceria Nuevo Aurora which is also in La Luz. And then, perhaps because he never quite grew up, he walks two more blocks to Super Neveria y Paleteria La Luz for what Don Day considers ice cream far better than he ever remembered as a kid and as good as he’s ever remembered having in his life.
Jimmy’s, as Don Day calls it, is located just off the main square of La Luz and just steps from La Luz’ most notable and almost magnificent Parroquia of Our Lady of The Light. Don Day calls the place Jimmy’s because the Super Neveria is only half of what are two restaurants in one with the other half called Super Tortas y Hamburguesas Jimmy. Jimmy, the owner, darts and dances between the two, as chimes ring out when someone enters either of the two doors.
On the left is a somewhat typical hamburger joint serving somewhat typical fare such as sandwiches, quesadillas and chicken nuggets. On the right is a somewhat typical ice cream parlor that won’t get anyone excited about the atmosphere. Don Day spends none of his time on the savory side on the left and all of his time on the sweet side on the right trying to make one of the world’s most difficult decisions.
There are four backbreaking freezers (is it impossible to make the ledges inside one foot taller?) each holding eight tubs of ice cream. For those who didn’t get an A in arithmetic and didn’t get taken out for triple decker chocolate chunk cones by their father, that’s 32 different flavors to choose from and at least 320 seconds you’ll waste before you even come close to a decision. And as you probably know, life is like ice cream. You must enjoy it before it melts.
There are the old classics…vanilla, chocolate (but only white, natural chocolate), strawberry and neopolitan…but despite the fact that Don Day himself might be considered an old classic, he goes for something a little more exotic. Not as exotic as the guanabana, chongo zamorano or beso de angel, particularly when he’s not sure exactly what they are. But either capuccino, key lime pie, strawberries and cream, pistachio, mango and cream, or, best of all, blackberries and cheese or as Jimmy’s calls it zarzamora con queso. Now I know zarzamora con queso sounds a little weird but didn’t a New York style cheesecake covered with cherries in syrup once sound weird as well?
How about if I describe each of the components of queso con zarzamora. You have the creamiest of all creams, overstuffed with hail-sized chunks of Philly’s finest, streaked with whole ripe berries that are oozing sweet juice. What’s not there is important as well. In none of Jimmy’s ice creams do you ever get the cloying, teeth jarring taste of too much refined sugar.
Jaime Aguila Nieves (the more formal handle for Jimmy) is not the only person in central Mexico to make ice cream but his operation is quite primitive compared to the glistening chrome machines resembling Star Wars sets that Don Day has seen. Maybe there’s some credence to those copywriters who use that “made the old fashioned way” line in their ads. Jimmy’s fabrica is located around the corner from his tienda and is about 6 feet long by 48 feet deep, exactly the size of a horseshoe pit for those who know the other meaning to the words let’s toss a few.
In the factory, the first thing you see are chest freezers filled with carefully measured bags of the fresh picked fruits that Jimmy uses. Then there’s a walk-in fridge with those tubs of that richest of rich cream. I asked Jimmy what the butterfat content of the cream was but he didn’t know the number. And the packaging gave no clue either. I’m guessing about 15% but it may be a very stupid guess.
On the shelves along the wall are bags and boxes and bottles and jugs and jars with almonds and walnuts and chunks of chocolate. And more jugs and jars with those apparently essential to the process ingredients like emusifiers and gums with great names like guar, locust bean and xanthan that apparently improve the texture and prevent ice crystals forming.
Finally at the end of the fabrica are enormous tanks with electric motors and things that twisted and twirled and swum and swirled in order to make that fluorescent blue chicle flavored ice cream that was in production when Jimmy gave me my personal tour.
I bought three half litres of three favorite flavors to go last Saturday at Jimmy’s and arrived home around Noon. I sampled a single spoonful of pistachio before I put it in the freezer drawer. Around 2:00 pm, I was pulling out the drawer again for a couple of spoonfuls of the mango con crema. About 5:00 pm, I went back to the kitchen to crack open a bottle of wine and there was that drawer again…well, you know what happened. Jimmy’s ice cream is Don Day’s heroin.
Now Don Day made a very bold…some might say arrogant…statement when he titled this piece. He called Jimmy’s the “very best ice cream in San Miguel”. So Don Day obviously must attempt to prove his statement.
There’s a lot of very good ice cream in Mexico. There are a lot of passionate people who have their favorites. So why does Don Day have his neck stuck out so far, calling Jimmy’s “the very best”. Well, it’s back to fairly simple arithmetic again. Though it was rare that Don Day’s marks in math ever got him a trip to the dairy with his parents, he did learn enough about fractions to come up with a formula for ranking the things he likes most in this world.
On the top of the fraction, what Don Day’s math teacher called the numerator, the number represents the amount of pleasure Don Day gets from the experience. On the bottom, the denominator represents the cost of that pleasure.
Now Don Day has more than one favorite source for ice cream in San Miguel (most addicts do). In fact, Don Day has three. And he’d be quite happy to exist exclusively on the ice cream from just one of those sources. So there isn’t much difference between the numerators.
But oh the denominators! A scoop of Jimmy’s ice cream costs (and please note I’m leaving the original prices from when I first wrote this blog post) 12 pesos. Two scoops costs 20 pesos. A half litre of Jimmy’s ice cream costs 35 pesos. A litre costs 60. At Don Day’s other two favorite ice cream makers, the prices for each of those amounts of joy are around twice as much. Which in simple arithmetic makes Jimmy’s about twice as good. Or as Don Day said right up front, “the very best ice cream in San Miguel de Allende”.
Super Neveria y Paleteria La Luz and Super Tortas y Hamburguesas Jimmy is located at Plaza Comercial Itzquinapan Local #1, at Calle Francisco Jose de Landeta #9, in Fraccionamente La Luz, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.