The Ice Cream Artist Behind 184 Flavors

Q&A with Diana Hardeman

Founder and CEO of MilkMade Ice Cream

Really—I try to remember that each flavor and each pint is a piece of art.

Describe what makes MilkMade unique.

MilkMade is a craft ice cream company based in Brooklyn. We have a small brick-and-mortar tasting room in Carroll Gardens in front of our factory, and we run an ice cream of the month subscription and delivery service.

All of our ice creams are made from scratch and every pint is crafted by hand in small batches in our factory—which happens to be the smallest ice cream plant in NYC! We source only the finest local and natural ingredients, and we never use gums or stabilizers, which allows our inspired flavors to really shine. Since we launched in 2009, we’ve always placed a strong emphasis on collaboration and community. Over the years, we’ve worked with 100+ different partners and believe in highlighting the craft of other local food purveyors and artisans.

For our monthly membership, we create two new flavors each month and deliver them direct to our members’ doors. We have never repeated a flavor and are on #184. This is what really sets us apart—we’re always innovating and strive to make each pint better than the last. Our ice cream is not just wild flavors. Behind each flavor is a story, a history, a reference, or an anecdote about how we created it. We’re always pushing ourselves to deliver new and unique flavors.


What is your earliest ice cream memory?

I grew up in California and was at the beach all the time. After every beach day, my parents took us to Thrifty’s for a scoop of 'scream. This may not be my earliest memory, but I remember dropping my cone as we walked out of the store once. The scoopers saw the incident and gave me a new cone. Now that is a rule of our shop—a kid spills his cone, give him a new one.


What is your brand’s most popular flavor/offering?

At our Tasting Room, the neighborhood LOVES Cobbler Hill (named after our nearby neighborhood Cobble Hill). It’s a cinnamon-sugar ice cream with a seasonal fruit cobbler—currently it’s mixed berry-rhubarb. We change up the fruit based on what’s in season at the Greenmarket. Every month we create six new seasonal ‘screams that typically have a unifying theme. This month, we’re highlighting our fave summer fruit with a lineup of “Fruit Stand” ‘screams. The most popular is definitely Key Lime Pie featuring Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie.

In terms of all-time most popular, Brie Mine was a major hit. A membership flavor from February 2014, it’s brie ice cream with a cabernet caramel swirl (we teamed up with Murray’s for brie and Brooklyn Winery for the cab). We recreated it this February and told ourselves we were only going to make one batch because it’s so dang expensive to make and labor intensive. We sold out in three hours.


What is your favorite flavor/offering?

I know I’m doing my job well when each new flavor we create is my new favorite. Currently: Rodgrod, which is a red berry ice cream with a touch of sweet cream ice cream based on a Danish summertime dessert. My favorite of all time is probably Rock Rock Rockaway Road, a marzipan (almond) ice cream with chocolate chips and a house-made marshmallow swirl. We took Rocky Road and flipped the script. 


What is the most unique flavor your brand ever offered?

I’ve come to envision ice cream as the blank canvas, and I am the artist. Really—I try to remember that each flavor and each pint is a piece of art. I’ve experimented with so many different flavors and mixins over the years. These are some of the wildest ones: Haunted Hayride: toasted hay ice cream with gingersnaps; Pine Needle: pine ice cream with a sugarplum swirl; Monster Mash: concord grape ice cream, marshmallow swirl, chocolate chips, peanut butter swirl, and graham crackers; East Coast IPA: a hazy IPA in ice cream form made with actual hops and a slurry from Other Half. 


What inspires you?

For our flavors, I find inspiration in everything around me. A stroll through the Greenmarket, the beach I just visited, a topical news event, or a story I learned about historic New York. When we make new flavors, we never just make a crazy wild flavor just because. What inspires me generally? Well, you know that I’m at the shop when hard rock or heavy metal is playing on the speakers. Sorry, kids!


How did you get into the ice cream business?

I always say I started this business by accident. I’ve always loved ice cream, and when I moved to New York to get my MBA, I developed a pint-a-night habit. One day, literally I was reaching for a pint of Ben & Jerrys and I realized I didn’t like what I was eating anymore—the flavors weren’t exciting, the ice cream was no longer natural, the taste had deteriorated, and pints had shrunk. So I just decided to make ice cream at home with my friends. What I didn’t eat myself, we served to friends and at parties, and within a few months, due to word of mouth and some press, I found myself with a waitlist for a business I had not yet really started. So I went to town and figured out how to start a food business. A couple months later, in December of 2009, MilkMade was born!


How did you learn to make ice cream?

I am a self-taught ice cream chef. I used to not feel comfortable calling myself a chef since I never went to culinary school or had any formal training. But it’s been nine years and I’ve crafted thousands of ice cream flavors, so there. Now I’m a chef. At the beginning it was a LOT of trial and error—each flavor required many iterations on my recipes. Now, only the challenges are challenging.


What is the secret to scooping ice cream?

Practice! When I opened our shop in 2015, I actually was not a Scoopista extraordinaire myself—I was taught by my seasoned scoopers how to make a good scoop. It IS an art to scoop a round beautiful scoop. When we train new Scoopistas we have them practice scooping and weighing the scoops for each different flavor.


Cup or cone?

I am not a cone gal. I prefer a cup and a spoon. I like the ice cream to shine and not be compromised by the taste of a cone. That being said—we love the Konery! We only offer Konery cones at the shop. I’ve known Kristine, the founder, from the early days. We were actually just at their factory yesterday and it’s incredible to see how much they’ve grown. I like the Birthday flavor.


What is your topping of choice?

Nothing! We don’t do toppings at MilkMade. We like to compose each flavor so that everything that should be in it is in it.


Best advice for those who want to get into the biz?

I have joked so many times that I’d much prefer to sell cupcakes—those don’t melt! Or even start a tech company where you don’t have to physically produce each and every product you sell to customers. There are a ton of logistical details that go into making ice cream—creating recipes, sourcing the ingredients, setting up your production space, navigating through the myriad New York food regulations, distributing the product, finding the money to start it all up. Then you have the employee who accidentally leaves the freezer open and all of your ice cream dies. (That happened to us this week). But ignore all of that and just go for it. If you have the idea, if you see the opportunity, take it. And then—keep going. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs. My health took me away from the business at one point even, and there were plenty of dismal days when I just wanted to quit. But I’m still here!


Any advice for making ice cream at home?

My favorite book for home ice cream making is David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. (Until I find time to write my own!) Refer to that for your first recipes, and when you want to create something innovative, use it as a jumping-off point and just keep experimenting. Really, it might take 10 times before you get a recipe right. Also—always use best ingredients you can find. That will make your ice cream really shine. All I had at the beginning were a lot of ideas and a tiny home ice cream maker; and now nine years later, I’m getting ready to ship my pints across the country and continue to run a busy brick-and-mortar ice cream shop!


Want an ice cream subscription from MilkMade? Click here. 



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Lauren Goldstein