It's a total Cape Cod summer scene: Bathing-suited families swarm a roadside ice cream stand, and teenaged servers hand out cones stuffed with two and three pastel scoops. It started decades ago, and it's still going strong, despite the dwindling number of dairy farms and the widespread availability of darned good ice cream at convenience stores.
New Englanders consume more ice cream per capita than people in any other region in the country -- 22 pints a year, according to Bob Bryson of the New England Ice Cream Restaurant Association. The Cape is doing its best to satisfy that craving, with more than 30 stands serving hard ice cream (as opposed to the soft-serve variety), according to theicecreamchallenge.com, a blog that lists, maps, and rates the Cape's ice cream.
Here's the rub: Of these, fewer than half make their own product on the premises . Some of those advertising "homemade" buy from Richardson's or other dairies that make a very good ice cream but distribute it commercially. For the aficionados who make a hobby of locating and comparing locally homemade, trucked-in homemade doesn't count.
Luckily, you don't have to drive far to find the real deal. Considering that the Cape has a coastline only about 160 miles long (not counting the hundreds of coves), premium homemade ice cream can be found, hypothetically, within a half-hour of any location. The Falmouth area is the motherlode, with five stands for homemade ice cream .
A word about "premium": High butterfat content -- between 14 and 16 percent -- defines what the industry calls premium ice cream . (Although some makers label their product "super-premium" if the butterfat exceeds 15 percent, this is more a marketing term than an industry definition .) By comparison, most commercial brands found in supermarket freezers, unless marked "premium," meet only the minimum butterfat standard of 10.5-11 percent . Most businesses that go to the trouble of making homemade ice cream go for the gold standard -- premium butterfat content -- and that's true of the Cape's made-right-there ice cream stands.
For those who count fat grams and calories, allow connoisseurs to offer a balancing rationale: Premium ice cream is that rare modern find: locally grown, locally made food, sold by mom-and-pop businesses that value quality and service. Besides, you probably won't be here that long, and nobody says you have to eat it every day.
Jane Roy Brown, a writer in Western Massachusetts, can be reached at regan-brown.com.