The Inside Scoop: Ryan O’Hara, Owner of Big Spoon Creamery in Birmingham
You didn’t really think we’d stop at tasting the ice cream, did you? Okay, we almost did.
Big Spoon Creamery truly is a destination ice cream shop now that their brick and mortar location in Birmingham is open. Even more than that, their owners Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara are fine humans who thrive on service.
We caught up with Ryan O’Hara to ask him about great ice cream, great ingredients and the secrets of (ice cream) life. He shared some serious insider information on what makes Big Spoon Creamery ice cream so downright irresistible.
We took good notes, don’t worry.
Here’s the scoop from our interview with Ryan O’Hara. (That pun never gets old.)
Eat Y’all: What makes the real difference between good ice cream… and GREAT ice cream?
Ryan: The biggest difference in good vs. great ice cream is the quality of ingredients. There are other factors, but the biggest difference is the ingredients used. For example, if you compared two strawberry ice creams, one made with frozen strawberries or artificial flavoring and the other made with fresh, in season, juicy ripe strawberries, the difference is clear. The same comparison could be made for quality of dairy (they choose Birmingham based Barber’s), chocolate, vanilla beans, etc.
Eat Y’all: How do you find the best ingredients? What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with at Big Spoon?
Ryan: We spend a lot of time on sourcing the best possible ingredients we can, whether it’s a specialty ingredient from across the globe or local produce from a farm just a few miles away. We’re fortunate in Alabama to be in a very rich farming region and to have a climate that is conducive to growing incredible produce. We love having the opportunity to support local farmers in their businesses, and we also love the benefit we see of using the freshest, highest quality, in season fruit available.
Eat Y’all: What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with at Big Spoon Creamery?
Ryan: Our favorite farmers to work with are Trent Boyd at Harvest Farm in Cullman, Alabama, Michael Dean at Terra Preta Farm in Vincent, Alabama, and Petals from the Past in Jemison, Alabama. Trent is well known for having the best strawberries anywhere, and we also get other summer berries from him. Michael has a very small farm, and he does an incredible job providing us with herbs like basil and mint, as well as blueberries. Petals from the Past does incredible work and have an incredible attention to detail. They provide us with a wide variety of produce in different seasons, such as blueberries, blackberries, figs, satsumas, muscadine, scuppernong, and meyer lemons.
One specialty ingredient we couldn’t do without in our kitchen is Valrhona Chocolate. Valrhona is a French chocolate producer, and they make, in our opinion, the finest couverture chocolate in the world. They’re a staple for fine dining restaurants across the world.
Eat Y’all: Any tips for those of us that want to perfect our own homemade ice cream?
Ryan: Whether you’re making small amounts of ice cream at home in a hand crank, or you’re making massive amounts in a commercial kitchen, one of the biggest keys is the freezing process. In the churning/freezing process, speed is the name of the game. The faster you can turn your ice cream base (creme anglaise) into ice cream, the better texture you’ll have with the final product. When the base starts to become frozen, ice crystals are formed from the water content in the base. If the churning/freezing process is slow, it produces larger ice crystals, which is why you often have an icy texture with homemade ice cream from a hand crank machine. With a faster process, such as the machines used in commercial kitchens, you have extremely small or nonexistent ice crystals, allowing for a smoother texture. Even at home, you can speed up your freezing process for better results by using LOTS of ice and salt, and also making sure your ice cream base is chilled before you churn it. It should be transferred immediately to the freezer after the churning is completed.
Visit the O’Hara’s at Big Spoon Creamery in Birmingham
>> Big Spoon Creamery is located at 4000 3rd Avenue South in Birmingham, Alabama in the Avondale neighborhood. Visit daily from 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. – and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.