Happy National Ice Cream Day! As you prepare to celebrate, I encourage you to throw “Michoacana” into your Yelp App instead of Baskin Robbins. I have recently discovered the magic of Mexican Ice Cream. This is not Mexican fried ice cream you may know, that is covered in corn flakes and cinnamon sugar. The Mexican ice cream I’m referring to is helado de Michoacan.
Michoacan is a state in Mexico where the ice cream industry dominates, especially in the town of Tocumbo where 90% of its residents are in the ice cream business. This ice cream is unique in flavor, and Michoacan churners take pride in the fresh ingredients. The ice cream is churned in house with fresh fruits. You can find these ice cream parlors in Mexican neighborhoods, flagged with names like La Michoacana or La Paleteria Michoacan. This is not a brand name or a franchise, but La Michoacana is an homage to the ice cream state and style of preparation.
In addition to helado (transl: ice cream), these parlors also serve paletas (transl: popsicles) made with chunks of fresh fruit. Some locations serve aguas frescas (trans: fresh waters) which are waters flavored with sugar and fruit. You may have had horchata before, a type of agua fresca that tastes like rice pudding, prepared with rice, vanilla and water.
I found La Michoacana Natural in West Palm Beach when I moved to the South side of downtown in April. It’s bright neon side with a popsicle lured me in, and after looking at their outstanding Yelp reviews, I had to try it out. I didn’t realize that I had stumbled upon a treasure trove of tasty treats.
On my first visit, I was lucky enough to have a teenage girl that spoke perfect English assist me, as I had many questions. I was overwhelmed by the menu that was in Spanish. I picked up some words like fresas (transl: strawberries) and galletas (transl: cookies) among the 20 or so flavors. However, when I scanned to find queso (transl: cheese) as one of the ice cream flavors, I started to question my Spanish vernacular. I looked at the girl, contorted my face and said “Cheese ice cream?” She replied “It’s very good,” and handed me a spoonful saying, “Trust me.” I savored it, to find what was not nacho flavored ice cream, but was actually cheesecake flavor. My eyes grew wide and I said “That might be the best flavor I’ve ever had!” and she replied “Oh no, we have better.”
One flavor to be unearthed is beso de angel (transl: angel kiss), cherry flavored ice cream with dried fruits and walnuts. Another flavor, mamey fruit, which I will proclaim to be my favorite flavor of ice cream. (If you’re not familiar with the mamey sapote, it’s a sweet, pumpkin-like fruit. Imagine if a pumpkin, avocado and peach all got mixed together). Finally, a flavor that deserves honorable mention is strawberry cheesecake. It is evident I’m well versed in the flavors, as I frequent this place about once per week.
If popsicles are more your style, you’ll be overwhelmed by the selection of paletas and the frozen banana bar. You can get either dipped into chocolate and sprinkled with toppings. A great combination is the paleta de piña (transl: pineapple), dipped into chocolate and topped with shredded coconut.
Since finding La Michoacana, American ice cream has not tasted the same. When I eat regular ice cream now, it’s lifeless and artificial. So let it be warned that authentic Mexican ice cream may be habit forming! If you are lucky enough to find a Paleteria Michoacana near you, please share with me and comment below.