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What it’s like to be a professional ice-cream taster
Ice-cream master class
In a bid to find out exactly what being an ice-cream taster involves, I headed off for a master class with Alison Gray, chief taste tester at Häagen-Dazs' headquarters in France. Alison's day job involves sampling ingredients such as chocolate, strawberries and praline, as well as developing new flavours of ice-cream for the 50-year-old brand. Dedication and passion are key to Alison's role too - it took her and her team four years to find the perfect brownies for the Vanilla Caramel Brownie flavour they developed. Needless to say, Alison's job also involves eating quite a lot of ice-cream, which brilliantly is what the master class was all about!
Before we got started, water and rose hip tea were poured into cups, for cleansing our palates in between tastings. We then worked our way through tasting different flavours of ice-cream, with some of the sampling carried out blindfolded. Alison got us to taste how the amount of sugar or air in ice-cream can change a single flavour, and we tucked into flavours only available in Asia including green tea and mango sorbet.
If you'd love to try your hand at being a professional ice-cream taster, here's what to keep in mind:
Ice-cream tasting tips
- Taste testing is best done mid-morning, when you've had something to line your stomach, but your tongue hasn't experienced too many flavours.
Garnish ice-cream with fresh fruit, cookies or liqueur for a really special dessert.
- Don't taste test when you're too hungry, otherwise everything will taste good!
- Avoid consuming strong flavours before you get taste testing eg coffee, garlic or curry.
- Our tongues can detect salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes, but it's our nose that helps us to taste actual flavours such as cinnamon and vanilla. This is why you can't taste flavours so well when you have a cold.
- When you're tasting ice-cream, watch out for immediate flavours that hit your tongue, and how long they last for.
- Taste in good lighting, so you can see the colour and texture of ingredients properly.
The best things about being an ice-cream taster
"Apart from eating ice-cream, the first thing I love is the variety," says Alison. "No two days are the same, and I work with lots of different people. I really like the contact we have, and all the work we do with our consumers. We actually use our consumers to help us develop our products. When we learn more about our consumers, it helps us to develop the products that they're looking for."
"Getting to visit lots of different countries when we're sourcing ingredients is great too. Especially the chocolate factories in Belgium!"
Ice-cream facts: did you know?
- The continent that eats the most ice-cream is Australasia, with people eating 12.5kg a year. Europeans eat a very modest 5kg a person, a year in comparison.
- Häagen-Dazs uses 130 ingredients across their range of ice-creams, the most expensive of which is green tea.
- The flecks of vanilla pods that you see in some ice-creams often aren't vanilla pods. Instead, manufacturers regularly use ground up vanilla beans, which have already had their flavour extracted.
- Good quality ice-cream contains very little air, which creates a really luxurious flavour. It's also the reason that a tub of quality ice-cream takes a good 10 minutes to soften when you take it out of the freezer.
- Häagen-Dazs launched a white-coloured pistachio ice-cream in the UK, (free from colourings). It wasn't a hit with British customers, who couldn't get past the fact that it wasn't green.
The new Häagen-Dazs taste tester will get to:
Häagen-Dazs' exclusive flavours include Vanilla Swiss Almond, Butter Pecan and Dulce de Leche.
- Travel out to Häagen-Dazs HQ in France, to try to create new flavours.
- Sample premium ingredients from around the world.
- Take a tour of London's best restaurants and patisseries, and report back on UK trends.
- Taste a lot of ice-cream!
Do you think you've got what it takes to be the new taste tester for Häagen-Dazs? If so, you can enter in-store or through Facebook at www.facebook.com/HaagenDazs
Applications opened on Thursday 27 October and will close on Thursday 24 November 2011.
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