The sweetest ice cream sandwich
Below is a profile I wrote for my food writing class about Lisa Herlinger. I fell in love with her ice cream sandwiches during a trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer. Photos courtesy of Ruby Jewel Treats.
Sometime after college, I began scrutinizing food labels more closely and discovered a long list of unnatural ingredients in almost everything I ate. It was easy switching to all-natural breads, cereals and peanut butter, but healthier ice cream sandwiches (usually made with rice or soy-based ice cream) simply didn’t taste good. Then I tried my first Ruby Jewel Treat.
Created by Lisa Herlinger of Portland, Oregon, Ruby Jewel Treats are ice cream cookie sandwiches made with all-natural, all-northwest ingredients including locally grown mint, honey, lavender and hormone-free milk. “I went to an ice cream sandwich shop in L.A. and there was a line around the block,” the company’s 33-year old founder explains. “I realized that there really weren’t any good, natural ice cream sandwiches available in the northwest. As someone who has always loved ice cream, I was totally inspired.”
At night, Herlinger started experimenting with ice cream sandwich recipes at the restaurant where she worked as a day cook. She debuted her first two flavors (crisp lemon cookies with honey lavender ice cream and cinnamon chocolate chip cookies with locally roasted espresso ice cream) at a Portland farmers’ market later that summer. When batch after batch kept disappearing, Herlinger knew she’d found her niche.
“It’s a product that everyone loves,” she says of the cookie sandwiches named after a Colorado lake. “Unless you’re a vegan or on a diet, you’re going to get excited about them.”
And addicted. Since hitting Seattle and Washington store shelves in May 2005, Herlinger has sold over 50,000 of her chunky cookie sandwiches that are a steal at just $3.79 each.
The secret to her success? “It’s the ratio of cookie to ice cream that’s most important,” she says. “Having it so the ice cream is softened to the right temperature, that’s when the flavors and textures are perfect. The ones in supermarkets have so much air pumped into them, on top of all that other crap.”
Fun and unusual flavors also separate Ruby Jewels from standard supermarket sandwiches. In addition to her original two flavors, Herlinger now offers double chocolate cookies stuffed with rich peanut butter ice cream and dark chocolate cookies with Oregon grown mint ice cream (my personal favorite). Every season, she also tries to introduce a new flavor or two. Last summer, she used local fruits for the berry ice cream she slapped between two Snickerdoodles and this fall, a pumpkin ice cream (made with an organic puree) clings to chewy gingerbread cookies.
Herlinger used to make everything herself from scratch, but these days, a carefully selected Seattle bakery uses her secret recipe to make the cookies and a local dairy farmer provides an ice cream base as well as the lavender, honey and mint for signature flavors. Each sandwich is then handmade with the help of Herlinger's sister and just one other full-time employee. “We've got it down,” she says. “We can make 280 in an hour.”
To keep the amount of waste that is made from each Ruby Jewel Treat at a minimum, Herlinger sells broken cookies at the farmers’ market and is currently testing out corn-based biodegradable bags. “We recycle every box and anything that’s thrown away is minimal,” she says proudly. “We don’t even have a big trash can.”
As demand for Ruby Jewel Treats continues to grow, Herlinger has her sights set on Northern California. Her cookie sandwiches are available at a market in Ojai, and she hopes that Whole Foods will start carrying them this spring. As for east coast devotees like myself, Ruby Jewel Treats can be ordered online, but shipping costs are pricey.
When I ask Herlinger if she’s sick of eating Ruby Jewel Treats, she starts to giggle, then lets me in on a little secret. “I like to trade them at the farmers market for vegetables, bread and cheese. And sometimes when I drop them off at Hot Lips pizza, this organic place that carries them, I get a free slice. That’s when I really love my job. I get such a crazy high from that.”
Ruby Jewel Treats
Portland, Oregon; 503-805-8369; $3.79