Carmen’s Best vs. Merry Moo: Which Local Ice Cream Brand Does Salted Caramel Better?September 10, 2017
The local artisanal ice cream scene has never looked so promising—what with a growing number of players taking on the craft of making real ice cream from scratch and with great ingredients that you’ll be left thinking, “Ben & Jerry’s who?”. Two local companies in particular stand out, having helped further the said movement during their introduction in the early part of the decade (around 2010, to be exact): Paco Magsaysay’s Carmen’s Best, and Kelvin Ngo’s Merry Moo. Both proudly utilize locally-sourced dairy (from their own farm, in the case of the former), offer more flavors than the standard vanilla/chocolate/strawberry (although those are available too), and are now sold almost everywhere while offering a quality much better than to your run-off-the-mill, overrun– and filler-laden commercially-sold tubs of ice cream at the supermarket. More interestingly, both brands offer their own respective takes on a particular flavor that had especially enjoyed its time in the limelight around the time of their launch: salted caramel, which both brands happen to consider to be their signature variant. But how do they differ, and which brand do we think does it better?
Carmen’s Best’s Salted Caramel
Of a paler shade of tan among the two, Carmen’s Best takes on a more subdued approach to their salted caramel. A spoonful on the tongue doesn’t immediately burst with strong flavors; what predominates, rather, is its creaminess. But its namesake flavor does reveal itself in a gradual progression as the ice cream melts: the complexity of the caramel (which is just at the right amount of deep), the characteristic richness of butter (which comes at a generous amount), and just enough salt to act as a savory counterpoint. Amazingly, this ice cream manages to not be too sweet (especially considering caramel, at its core, is made with burnt sugar); and though rich in flavor with a smooth melt on the tongue and not at all airy, its relatively thin, streamlined melt keeps it from feeling cloying.
Merry Moo’s Sea Salt Caramel
Merry Moo’s take is the darker scoop of the two, coming close to a tawny brown. Though the general flavor profile and level of sweetness is similar to that of Carmen’s Best, you get—as you’d predict from the color—a slightly darker caramel with a deeper burnt-sugar note and a stronger hit of salt. But it’s not as smooth or buttery, with traces of a starchy, powdery feel that gets in the way of its creaminess. While this doesn’t completely make it unpleasant to eat, and isn’t as noticeable when allowed to thaw for a few minutes, it does put Merry Moo at a textural disadvantage compared to the silkier version of Carmen’s Best.
Though similar in concept, both brands offer different strong points. Carmen’s Best captivates us texture-wise, and its silky-smooth, buttery ice cream makes for a more sophisticated treat. Meanwhile, Merry Moo offers a bigger boom of darker, saltier caramel that makes it a hit with the caramel lovers of the team. It was tough—but after much deliberation, the team agreed that although Merry Moo does win on caramel potency, more is not necessarily better. The better balance of flavors and superb consistency on Carmen’s Best makes for better overall ice cream to which we must give the award. That said, Merry Moo’s is by no means a bad scoop—both brands deserve to be recognized for upping the game of the Filipino artisanal ice cream scene, helping the nation realize once and for all that local can be great in its own right.