Happy Holidays! I hope everyone is relaxing and enjoying time with loved ones.
Before heading to Massachusetts for Christmas, I had to fly out to the West Coast to present at a conference in Sonoma, California. While snow in Washington, DC threatened to cancel my trip, I ended up having an easy time getting myself to the Sonoma County Airport. This quaint single-gate airport is named after cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, who created the comic strip Peanuts. I got a kick out of all the Snoopy paraphernalia in the teeny-tiny airport.
Sonoma is nestled in the heart of California’s wine country. Wineries in Sonoma County tend to be a bit smaller and are mostly family-owned, and thus Sonoma is a bit less crowded and commercialized than neighboring Napa Valley. Sadly, I didn’t have time to visit any wineries during my 48 hours in Sonoma. But the beautiful vineyards and dry, rolling hills left me breathless, and I’ve already asked K to travel to Sonoma together someday.
On my one full day in Sonoma, I did manage to make time for ice cream. Priorities, people! Sitting in my rental car after the conference, a quick iPhone search resulted in a couple choices. But when I read that the New York Times recommended an ice-cream shop called “La Michoacana” in its “36 Hours in Sonoma“ article, my decision was made. K and I regularly turn to the “36 Hours” series for restaurant and sightseeing tips before traveling to new cities.
Even in the dark evening, it was easy to spot La Michoacana along the busy Highway 12 in Sonoma; the brightly-lit and colorful storefront stands out in an otherwise grey strip of stores. I had read that the owner, Teresita Carr, grew up in Tocumba, Mexico, where the La Michoacana chain was founded. Located in western Mexico, Tocumba is a small town with a big reputation: about 90% of families living in Tocumba are involved in the ice-cream industry (according to this USA Today article).
From what I’ve read, La Michoacana is fairly ubiquitous in Mexico; rather than an official brand, the name is applied to any establishment that carries traditional Tocumba ice cream (referred to as “Michocán-style”, after the state in which Tocumba is located) and traditional Mexican paletas. Ice cream from Tocumba is known for its simple, all-natural ingredients and focus on inventive flavors. Paletas are like better versions of American popsicles — all-natural frozen pops made out of fresh juice, chunks of fruit, and (sometimes) a bit of real cream.
Like a typical shop in Mexico, Sonoma’s La Michoacana offers an incredible variety of flavors. I could’ve easily spent an hour reading through the entire menu of ice cream, sorbet, paleta, and agua fresca flavors and tasting different samples. But since I had to get back to work, I tried to make a quick selection. Many of the fruit flavors sounded delicious (particularly the Coconut Pineapple and Banana Nut ice cream and Guava sorbet), and so did the traditional Americanized flavors like Strawberry Cheesecake, Cookies and Cream, and Rum Raisin. I went with my gut and ordered a two-scoop cup of Chongo (translated as “Custard”) and Peanut Butter, which cost me $4.
|Bottom scoop: Peanut Butter
Top scoop: Chongo, or “Custard”
The verdict? Each batch of La Michoacana ice cream is handmade in the back room, and both flavors were fresh and creamy – not a hint of icy freezer burn or artificial flavoring. I wasn’t sure what Chongo would taste like, but I found it very pleasant. It was smooth and creamy, with a rich egg-y flavor reminiscent of Spanish flan or Australian custard. The smoothness of the Chongo offset the crunchiness of the Peanut Butter ice cream, which was very different than the traditional American peanut-butter ice cream. La Michoacana’s version was a bit less sweet, allowing the true peanut taste to shine through. The ice cream was as chock-full of peanut bits as my favorite “super-chunk” peanut butter (maybe even more?), which made for a very satisfying scoop. Think of all that protein! I thoroughly enjoyed both scoops; neither flavor was so unique that it knocked my socks off, but this was excellent ice cream. La Michoacana is on to something, and I hope Mexican ice cream continues to grow in the United States.
18495 Highway 12
Sonoma, CA 95476