So back in June 2014, not quite a year ago, two fun-loving ladies went and started ISTID. Neither Anniken or Nina have a background in food, ice cream, or nitrogen. The idea came to Anniken when she was in San Francisco and discovered Smitten — now a liquid nitrogen ice cream ‘chain’ with 5 stores across California.
Today, Dovydas and I went along to their Jægersborggade shop to chat with Nina (it's Anniken's day off) and take loads of photos of cream and steam. But Jægersborggade isn’t where it all began for ISTID. They actually only acquired these premises 6 weeks ago (see ‘Tid for ISTID’s Grand Opening!’) Before that, they were popping up all over the place, in Copenhagen and further afield.
“Before we were doing all this at home, in rented kitchens, at school, everywhere. It was exhausting to do all these events without having our own kitchen.
People were so curious, and we could feel that this had some sort of momentum. So we made it our goal to get our own place before summer 2015. In January, we quit our jobs, raised 70,000kr to build a kitchen with a Kickstarter campaign, and moved into our Jægersborggade shop!”
Just FYI, no other liquid nitrogen ice cream places exist in Denmark, or even Scandinavia. This two-woman team are the first.
The Jæggersborggade shop is a small space, with simple white walls and a few bar stools. I’m surprised at the scale of it. From the epic steam photos I’d seen, I’d imagined something much larger and more industrial, but it succeeds in striking the perfect balance between nerdy, homely and quirky. There is a tiled counter, where 4 KitchenAid mixers stand poised for the day of ice cream making. Then there are the huge nitrogen canisters lined up along the back wall. The little kitchen is through an open door, where Nina is busy preparing a salty caramel base when we arrive.
Stage one of the process is making the base. For basic ice cream, you need milk, cream, egg yolks, vanilla and sugar. The salty caramel is made by melting sugar, then adding cream, water and salt. Then the two are mixed together, and the base ‘rests’ for 1–2 days to bring out the flavours.
“It could last for a couple of weeks and still be fine, but we don’t make too much of it; we want it to be as fresh as possible.”
It’s kept in the fridge meanwhile. The funny thing is that there are no freezers in the ISTID kitchen at all. All of the freezing is done right in front of you with the liquid nitrogen.
Select your flavour from ISTID’s menu of 4. The base is poured into a regular mixer — just a bit more than needed for one serving — too little means it will freeze up against the sides of the bowl. On it goes…
Liquid Nitrogen at -196°C (yes, really) is added gradually to the mixer, and freezes the creamy base in about 60 seconds. The speed of the freezing process is what makes for such perfectly soft ice cream. When you freeze the ice cream mixture so fast, it has barely any time to crystallise like it would in a normal freezer, so the ice crystals are absolutely tiny.
Nina’s pouring away, with no measuring tools to hand. Apparently you can “hear it when it’s ready”. She’s laughing through the steam…
“I haven’t gotten sick of it yet. Every time, I’m still like wow that looks good! And I make like 20 litres of ice cream a day!”
A little bit about Liquid Nitrogen, since this is the aspect that seems to confuse and amaze newbies. Nitrogen is an inert element that makes up 78% of the atmosphere all around us. When this element is at -195°C or colder, it’s a liquid. It’s used in all sorts of scientific processes because of this property, but recently has become more common in forward-thinking restaurant kitchens, and now, in ice cream production. It’s not cheap, but it does an incredible job, and means that money isn’t spent on powering freezers, additives, or throwing out waste because of shelf life.
Safety-wise, liquid nitrogen itself comes with risks — direct skin contact with it will cause severe frostbite — but it is not an ingredient and so it is never ingested; it cools the food, then evaporates (hence the steam).
The menu of 4 changes frequently; there’s even a chalkboard on the wall where customers can vote between two flavours for the next menu. And the new menu will be up soon so my description of the one we sampled will be short lived.
Rhubarb Cheesecake. Unlike ordinary fruit ice cream, with this one, the rhubarb pieces don't taste frozen, they’re exactly the right texture and tang of fresh rhubarb. Add crumble topping and homemade raspberry syrup and what’s not to love?
Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip. As a child roaming Cornwall, the mint choc-chip ice cream was a major staple of my diet. But never have I had one like this, and that’s not just due to the softness. The ‘fresh mint’ in the title is no lie. Nina and Anniken use mint leaves, which they soak in the ice cream base overnight, then squeeze out, producing an amazing green mint ‘juice’ (for want of a better word). The chocolate chips (from Ro Chokolade down the road) are added right at the final stages of the mixing/freezing.
Salty Caramel. Now I’m not usually a girl who goes for caramel, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, or anything I deem too “mainstream ice cream”. Usually, I’m more of a pistachio/rhubarb/avocado & lime kinda girl. But, though I fell in love with the other two flavours, it cannot be denied that the salty caramel was the one I ate the most of! It was just absolutely addictively to-die-for good.
Another amazing feature of the liquid nitrogen method is that you can make frozen edible cocktails. The freezing point of alcohol is usually about -100°C, so the percentage of alcohol can be maintained in the ice cream. Yes, you read correctly, you can get drunk from eating ice cream!
ISTID are serving up incredible ice cream cocktails every weekend, between 16:00 - 20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays. In the summer they’re planning to do more of this — stay tuned!
All the milk, cream and eggs are from Øllingegårds mejerier — an organic dairy based in Skævinge — and the rest of the ingredients used are also organic (except the mint leaves). They can’t publicise this officially, as they haven’t applied for Ø status yet. This seems a shame as it’s a major selling point, and it must be quite a lot more expensive, but Nina’s like, it doesn’t matter anyway, they use organic ingredients because they just taste a lot better.
Now, despite running a full time shop, Nina and Anniken are still doing the same kind of events they did before. So they’ll be at Roskilde Festival (and whilst they’re there, the Jæggersborggade store will be closed, just FYI), Trailerpark Festival, Musik I Lejet, and probably quite a few more. They want a truck, too!
When Nina tells me that they’re the only liquid nitrogen ice cream bar in Scandinavia, I pop the question about expansion. Do they want to hit Sweden or Norway (Anniken is Norwegian), or just stick around in Denmark for a while? My feeling is that if these ladies wanted to, they’ve got such an edge with their concept, fun and out-of-this-world-good ice cream, they’d succeed all over Northern Europe and some. But hey, maybe a worldwide liquid nitrogen ice business isn’t as fun to run as a local one!