The Starbucks of ice cream

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By Terri Gleich, for the West Sound Guide to Dining

Jerry Perez wants to change the way Americans think about ice cream in the same way that Starbucks changed the way we think about coffee.

The founder of Bainbridge Island-based Mora Iced Creamery said consumers have become coffee connoisseurs, who are knowledgeable about where their coffee beans are grown and how they’re roasted.

Perez wants us to be just as sophisticated about ice cream.

“If we can fulfill that role, that would be a great achievement for us.”

With recognition from Food & Wine Magazine as one of the top ice cream spots in the U.S. and a plan to begin selling Mora franchises by year’s end, Perez is on his way.

In addition to a production facility and shop on Bainbridge, Perez and wife Ana Orselli own stores in Poulsbo and Kingston. They are awaiting approval from the state of Washington for their franchising plan and expect to have 50 stores in Washington, Oregon and California within five years. They also ship their ice cream all over the continental U.S. through moraicecream.com.

The couple produces all of their frozen confections in small batches of 20 gallons at a time, going through 125,000 pounds of milk and cream, 55,000 pounds of sugar and 25,000 pounds of berries a year. They are expanding the Bainbridge plant to handle the increased demand of supplying franchisees.

“What makes us special is we produce everything from scratch. There are no premixed powders or magic flavorings. We squeeze every single lime, lemon and pink grapefruit by hand. We peel and core every pineapple,” he said.

“We are inspired by the image of our great grandmothers producing ice cream in their own kitchens with fresh ingredients.”

Perez and Orselli moved to Kitsap County from Buenos Aires 10 years ago, in part because of the region’s similarities to Patagonia, a territory shared by Chile and their native Argentina. Perez, who worked as an international business consultant, didn’t know anybody here. After exploring the Seattle area, he, his wife and two daughters, took the ferry to Bainbridge and fell in love with the family feel.

From the beginning, the couple aspired to start a business, considering wine and shoes before settling on ice cream.

“We are in a fun business,” he said. “Ice cream is associated with good moments and joyful experiences.”

They opened their first store in Bellevue Square Mall in 2004 and added Bainbridge in 2006. Deciding that stand-alone, destination stores worked better than a mall location, the pair closed Bellevue in 2008 and opened Kingston in 2009 and Poulsbo in 2010. The Kingston location is open April through October. The other two stores are open seven days a week.

Perez touts Mora’s ice cream as European-style and said he is determined to bust the popular myth that higher butterfat means better ice cream. “That’s like calling one red wine better than another because it has a higher alcohol content,” he scoffed.

At 6 percent, Mora has about half the butterfat of the typical premium ice cream, but Perez said it is just as creamy and luxurious.

Mora features 48 flavors of ice cream and sorbet, including 5 to 7 seasonal flavors such as pumpkin pie, eggnog and ginger ice cream. Top sellers include moreo, a concoction of chocolate, peanut butter and Oreos, and Swiss chocolate, which has chocolate shavings, swirled caramel and Godiva chocolate liqueur.

Perez and Orselli develop flavors through trial and error, enlisting customers and friends for feedback. Not all are as successful as moreo. Peanut butter ice cream was a bust and lemon wasn’t a hit until it was made over into lemon bar ice cream.

Customers are encouraged to taste as many flavors as they want before deciding on one. Scoops cost $4.

“We consider them all signature flavors. They are all very special,” said Perez. “For me, our French vanilla is the most pure expression of what an ice cream can be, just cream, milk, sugar and a blend of vanillas. We put a lot of thought into that vanilla.”

He said most ice cream makers use the same base for all flavors, but at Mora each is different. The base for the strawberry ice cream is slightly different from those for the raspberry and blackberry ice creams, for example. Once mixed, each flavor is allowed to develop for several days before freezing.

Judging from a sampling of customers at the Poulsbo store, Perez is succeeding with his plan to increase appreciation of fine ice cream.

“It tastes real,” said Chris Catilla, who indulged in a scoop of dulce de leche. “It doesn’t taste like supermarket ice cream and it’s so rich that one scoop is enough.”

“It has a really good flavor,” said 9-year-old Jordan Short, as he licked a scoop of pineapple sorbet.

His 10-year-old brother Roman was just as enthusiastic about the chocolate mousse. “I love it because they give me a lot. I also love that they have so many flavors I can’t really decide. This is definitely one of the best.”

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