Read the story and answer the questions that follow.
One Cool Job
What do you want to be when you grow up? A teacher? A doctor? An astronaut? How about an ice-cream taster? Yes, there really is a job where you can get paid to taste ice cream. Just ask John Harrison, an “Official Taste Tester” at Dreyer’s/Edy’s Ice Cream for the past 21 years. Testing helps manufacturers to be sure of a product’s quality. During his career Harrison has been responsible for approving over 200 million gallons of the sweet creamy dessert—as well as for developing over 75 flavors.
Harrison hadn’t always wanted to be in the ice-cream business. As a kid, he’d wanted to be a fi re fighter or a police officer, among other careers.
But ice cream runs in his family. “It was like I fell into a batch of ice cream”, he says, chuckling. Four generations of Harrisons have been “in” ice cream, including his great-grandfather, who owned two ice-cream parlors in New York City in the 1880s, his father, who owned a dairy-ingredients factory in Georgia, and his uncle, who owned an ice-cream factory in Tennessee. At his uncle’s factory, he “tasted and ate” his way through high school and college as he learned how to make ice cream. He likes to joke that ice cream is so much a part of his life that his blood “runs sixteen percent butterfat”.
A Day in Dessert
Some people think that it would be easy to do this job; after all, you just have to like ice cream, right? Nope—there’s more to the job than that, says Harrison, who has a degree in chemistry. He points out that a dairy or food-science degree would be very useful to someone wanting a career in this “cool” field.
In a typical morning on the job, Harrison tastes and evaluates 60 ice-cream samples—3 each from the 20 flavor batches produced the previous day. Starting with vanilla and working up to stronger flavors like mint chocolate-chip, he slices open each container. Then he lets the ice cream warm up to about 12 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in the storage freezer is -20 degrees.
Most people eat ice cream at between 0 and 5 degrees. But cold ice cream can numb the taste buds, Harrison explains, so “You get more flavor from warmer ice cream, which is why some kids like to stir it, creating ice-cream soup.”
Tasting with Your Eyes
While the ice cream warms up, Harrison looks over the samples and grades each one on its appearance. “Tasting begins with the eyes,” he explains. He checks to see if the ice cream is attractive and asks himself, “Does the product have the color expected from that flavor?” If there are added goodies in the ice cream, such as fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, or fudge ribbons, he makes sure that they are evenly spread throughout and that the sample doesn’t have too much or too little of the added ingredients.
Next it’s time to taste! With his gold-plated spoon, which he uses to avoid the aftertaste plastic or wood can give, Harrison skims the top of the sample, where it’s warmest. Then he turns the spoon upside down and plops the spoonful onto his tongue.
Swirl, Smack, and . . .
“I’ve developed a way of tasting called the Three S’s”, he says. “First, I swirl the ice cream very quickly around in my mouth, completely coating my taste buds. Then I smack my mouth several times very fast to warm up the ice cream even more and to add air, to release the maximum flavor”. While swirling and smacking, he tastes for balance between the cream, the natural flavors, and the sweetening ingredients, and he checks to be sure that the ice-cream texture is smooth and creamy, not icy or gummy.
You might expect swallow to be the third S in his tasting method, but it’s not. “We eat for nutrition”, Harrison says. “Swallowing isn’t necessary to taste ice cream”. After about three to five seconds of swirling and smacking, he demonstrates the third S—he spits out the sample into a bucket. “That’s the worst part of my job”, he sighs, “spitting out the ice cream”.