REVIEW: Caffe Panna Secret Garden

Basil is one of the most beautiful ingredients in the culinary universe. Often associated with savory foods, its fragrant complexity isn’t limited simply to pesto, pizza sauce, curry, or garnish on fish. There’s an entire world of possibilities if you open your mind to combining the heralded herb with different, unique, components, including ice cream. Caffe Panna’s Secret Garden is fresh basil infused sweet cream rippled with Sicilian apricot preserves. 

To the unenlightened this may sound odd, but there are truly few things as quintessentially Italian tasting as this stunning imported Panna fused with basil. The base is absolutely perfect. It is rich and indulgent with an immaculately smooth velvety texture that takes over the entirety of my tongue as it melts. It’s decadent but still manages to feel light, refreshing, and even cleansing from the gentle and slightly peppery sweet notes of the basil. The purity of the high end Panna (cream) really gets a chance to shine while never overpowering the more herbaceous qualities of the green gift.

The apricot preserves are a lovely accompaniment to the basil. They’re sweet and thicker than a typical swirl, popping up in little clumps throughout the pint with zero iciness. The preserves carry a nice syrupy density without feeling cloyingly heavy and compliment the basil really well.

Secret Garden is an exceptionally simple and elegant ice cream. It is beautiful in its simplicity and I love it. The only thing that could take it to the next level would be a little bit of texture. This is the type of ice cream that is sensational but after 3 or 4 spoonfuls you’re done, and with a little bit of toothy variation it could be an all timer. Perhaps some crunchy gently candied almonds or hazelnuts or even the stunning shortbread from the Panna Picnic pack’s sibling Cornberry Blues could make this even better; but as it stands it is an ice cream everyone must try. And hey, no one is stopping me (or you) from sprinkling a little crunchy magic on top and turning this secret garden into a secret salad sundae…trust me, it’s fantastic.

Rating: 9/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($114.95 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: Caffe Panna Carrot Cake 2022

When it comes to pleasing the people, few things get the job done as swiftly and successfully as cookies and cake. Which is likely why Caffe Panna’s People Pleaser pack relied on one or the other in all six of its densely creative pints, including the aptly titled Carrot Cake 2022: spiced Golden Oreo infused ice cream with candied pecans, cream cheese frosting dollops, and chunks of Lloyd’s carrot cake.

Let’s get one thing out of the way here — you’re not going to get a whole lot of Golden Oreo nuance out of the base because this pint is absolutely LOADED. And I’m not mad! The subtly spiced base acts as a nice canvas that’s far from blank but not very busy either. I get some notes of cinnamon and a smooth creaminess when I can get enough of it on my spoon to truly get a taste. The texture is there, it’s cold and luscious, but it’s not even close to the focus of the flavor train speeding across my tastebuds.

Caffe Panna’s candied pecans are revelatory. They’re absolutely perfect, and I was so happy to have them poking out at me right underneath the superficial top layer of the pint. Candied or chocolate-coated nuts in ice cream are underrated in general, but these stand out amongst all candied nuts ever — frozen or not. They have a robust earthy pecan flavor accented by sweet burnt sugar and a massively satisfying crunch. I never want them to stop appearing as I dig. I’m not sure if they’ve been blessed with some spices or if the cinnamon is creeping in from the creamy cuddle of the base, but they pop with a little spice as well, and it’s a combination I simply can’t deny. 

The pecans play in perfect tandem with the generous chunks of New York institution Lloyd’s carrot cake, which are perfectly dense yet soft and moist. The cake is about as good as it gets when tossed into ice cream and the not-too-aggressive notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove round out the summery spiced profile beautifully. Lloyd’s cake has been heralded as some of the best in the country for the last 30 years and I can see why — it tastes so classic and authentic in a simple and beautiful way. I love seeing the bright orange flecks of carrot jump out from the sea of brown and white, looking almost as satisfying as the cake tastes.

Where this pint starts to veer off the path of perfection is in the cream cheese frosting. I love frosting, I’ve eaten it straight from the jar regularly throughout my life, including last week, but the execution here is a bit much, even for me. The frosting is heavy on the sugary sweetness and light on the cream cheese tang, which I don’t mind, but the hand packed pint got too heavy handed on my dollops, which are actually much more like scoops. When I encountered my first glob of thick, slightly gritty frosting I was elated, especially in tandem with the milder, more buttery cake, but a little more than halfway into the pint I had an entire baseball-sized layer of frosting, and there isn’t much I can do with that other than let it sit in my freezer. Underneath the frosting was very little-to-no more ice cream and I was sad the journey came to an end prematurely.

While Carrot Cake 2022 may suffer a bit from the learned art of restraint, even for an edge-eating frosting freak like myself, I can’t deny this is among the best carrot cake ice creams I have ever scooped. The quality is unmatched, and it is one of the few times in my life I wanted less of a mix-in, but I’ll take that problem over getting none of what’s listed on the label any day.

Rating: 8.5/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($114.95 for 6 pints)