Ice Cream, Fresh from the Cow

For most of us ice cream is an urban pleasure. Like bars and food trucks, scoop shops define a city. But for Jenny Ko and Alex Saneski, ice cream is an extension of farm life.

Two years ago, Ko and Saneski launched Cremeux Ex Machina, a small company with an unusual product. It’s not so unusual for what it is (a few dozen flavors of gelato and sorbetto with vivid flavors) but where it’s made: right on the dairy farm that produces the milk. Ko and Saneski formed a partnership with John Taverna (below), a fourth-generation dairy farmer who runs a 150-cow organic operation in Petaluma, 40 miles north of San Francisco.

Ko and Saneski operate out of a couple of converted stainless-steel-lined shipping containers, spliced together. You have to slip on special booties to enter, so you don’t contaminate the place with farm dust. Inside, there’s an Italian-made Cattabriga Effe 6 gelato maker and a 45-gallon pasteurizing machine. The milk is usually only 12 hours out of Taverna’s cows before it winds up in Cremeux’s pasteurizer.

Taverna’s milk cows are all Jerseys, gentle, doe-eyed things whose milk is naturally high in fat—typically 4.9 percent, Saneski says, though it can go as high as 6, a percentage point or two higher than the milk from Holsteins. (Besides Cremeux, Taverna sells his Jersey milk to local cheesemaker Cowgirl Creamery.) A higher milk-fat content means Cremeux’s gelato is silken without the addition of cream—pistachio gelato is one of the flavors Saneski is proudest of. It’s a frozen pomade of rich nut oils fused to even richer milk.

“I tend to judge a place on its pistachio,” says Saneski, who grew up in New Jersey and worked at Il Laboratorio del Gelato in Lower Manhattan (he and Ko met at the French Culinary Institute, now the International Culinary Center, in New York). Meanwhile, not 60 feet outside Cremeux’s window Taverna’s gently caramel-colored herd of Jerseys is making its way to the barn for the afternoon milking. “They know what time the milking is,” Taverna tells us. “They look forward to it.”

Cremeux’s distribution is still pretty limited at this point—they sell at three Bay Area farmers’ markets (including the CUESA Saturday market at the San Francisco Ferry Building) and a tiny handful of shops. Ko and Saneski don’t seem like they’re in any hurry to expand. Like the Jerseys gently trudging to the barn, their rhythms are ones of country life.

Also in this series:
Mariko Grady and the Gentle Art of Koji

Photos and animated GIF by Chris Rochelle