Cow Cow Ice is a Serious Soft Serve Game ChangerSeptember 5, 2017
- Patricia BaesWords
Among the growing number of Japanese dairy-focused franchises that have made their way here in the past years—we’ve had Kumori, Uncle Tetsu, Pablo’s, and Le Tao—comes another player: Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory, known for their cheese cookies and milk cheesecakes. Like many of its fellow franchises, their treats don’t come cheap, but that hasn’t stopped fellow Filipinos from loving them anyway. True enough, when the brand launched their new frozen treats just last month—a line of what is known in Japan as “softcream” (that’s soft-serve ice cream to you and me) called Cow Cow—it would prove to be a hit, dominating many a Filipino foodie’s Instagram feed, and generating a line—at times one of the flavors would run out of stock for a couple of days (as the author personally experienced with the Milk variant at both the Power Plant Mall and Mega Fashion Hall branches, at one point). But is it worth the hype, the time waiting in line, or even just the 130-to-280-bucks-a-cup price tag?
Cow Cow comes in three variants (the 130-peso Milk, 150-peso Cheese, and the 150-peso Mix which is a swirl of the two) and can be topped with a piece of Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory’s Salt & Camembert Cookie and/or a slice of their signature Milk Cheesecake at 50 pesos and 100 pesos, respectively. While we had hoped to try the full cheesecake- and cookie-topped sundae the brand promotes, the said cheesecake (which we’d also hoped to compare the flavors of with the ice cream) would always be out of stock across branches throughout our numerous visits. That aside, here’s what we think of the Cow Cow line:
As we’ve mentioned in our previous Japanese milk candy taste test, the concept of sweet treats that actively highlight milk as a standalone flavor—sans vanilla, spices, or any other extra flavorings that could take away from its time in the spotlight—is a popular one around Asia and most especially in the Land of the Rising Sun. We’re happy to report that this flavor does justice to the name, with the purest flavor of milk through and through.
As the brand officially states, the Milk variant is made with Jersey milk and Hokkaido mascarpone—the former referring to a special milk popular in Japan but hailing from an area of the same name in the UK, the latter to a kind of double or triple cream cheese from the said Japanese region known for great dairy. Though both components take on relatively muted flavors by themselves, they both lend their telltale characteristics in a way that works to highlight one another: the Jersey milk and its distinct milkiness; the mascarpone and its audacious creaminess. The resulting mixture is simultaneously potent with the flavor of milk (think the full-bodied, rounded depth of dairy enveloping the tongue) but also immaculately clean, with no other flavors to distract and without being too sweet.
More than that, the texture is also impressive: ultra-smooth with barely any ice crystals that each spoonful glides like silk on the tongue—a quality that not a lot of other soft-serve places in Manila manage to achieve. Though still ultimately “soft” with a touch of whippiness to it, it has a surprisingly thick body relative to others of its kind—not in the sense that it’s heavy like super-premium ice cream, but in that it’s packed with dairy goodness with little filler air which, especially coupled with the added creaminess, lingers long and lets you savor all its nuances. Other members of the team noted the peculiar way it doesn’t seem to even feel cold or frozen at all—something the author herself doesn’t exactly agree with (it’s still cold as you’d expect soft-serve to be), but takes to refer to how the added creaminess makes for less iciness, and hence less of a brain freeze-inducing sensation.
We’re completely happy with the ice cream on its own, but the Salt & Camembert Cookie also makes for a buttery, slightly sweet-and-salty, and crisp-but-delicate companion that’s tasty enough to break the monotony without taking away the attention from the ice cream. Our hopes stay high for the cheesecake—when Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory restocks it, anyway.
Filipinos have their own concept of “cheese” ice cream—a deliberately sweet-and-salty treat found in groceries and peddled by many a sorbetero around the streets—so this flavor isn’t as foreign an idea to be introduced here, but Cow Cow’s interpretation is a different, and can divide audiences based on their expectations. Pale yellow in color, resembling that of whipped butter, Cow Cow’s Cheese ice is said to have two cheeses in the mix: cream cheese and Hokkaido Gouda cheese. This might lead you to think that it’s meant to be tangy like a cheesecake or nutty and savory the way Gouda can be (when aged, anyway), but Cow Cow takes on a more subdued approach—so subdued that you might not even think it to be “cheese”-flavored without knowing its intended flavor beforehand.
While there is a hint of savoriness and a smidge of funk that differentiates it from the pristine Milk variant, they come at an amount just enough to enhance and add a counterpoint from the creaminess while maintaining an overall neutrality (and, like the Milk variant, a barely-there level of sweetness). What predominates is an overall buttery character, and the resulting sensation feels somewhat similar to the brand’s signature cheese cookies—where the cheeses that form their flavors don’t take over, but instead enhance, the cookies’ more latent note of butter. On one hand, this disappointed a few members of the team who were expecting a more potent dose of cheese; on the other hand, the author thinks this allows the ice cream’s buttery, creamy quality to shine.
Texture-wise this variant seems to carry a touch more density and heft than the Milk, coming close to the frozen custard served at Rita’s but with a whippiness we’d compare to classic mousse. Either way, it maintains the same full-on dose of dairy that we’ve come to love from this brand.
We were skeptical about the Milk-Cheese swirled version given how both flavors individually taste pretty muted—but it does work synergistically to produce a superb sum, where the butteriness of the Cheese surprisingly boosts the milkiness of the Milk (which, in turn, rounds out the Cheese’s relative savoriness). As with the solo Cheese variant, don’t expect an in-your-face wham of fromage flavor, but an overall creamy, full-on dairy hit.
We’re divided given the muted cheese flavor on the Cheese variant—and the stalls’ lack of an actual dining area leaves us wanting (though you could argue that savoring your ice cream while walking or standing up carries its own appeal). Still, Cow Cow offers great frozen treats, thanks to the use of quality ingredients. If you’re one who appreciates the taste of plain, unadorned but excellent-rate dairy, your hundred-plus bucks goes a long way in giving you a most memorable milky experience—even without toppings.