Fermentation is having a moment in the Hudson Valley.
It all started with the bottle after bottle of good-for-your-gut kombucha that bubbles across the region, inviting us to pack in those probiotics. Or perhaps it was the abundance of perfectly crusted sourdough, the likes of which we can only aspire to recreate at home.
Either way, fermentation is happily here to stay, bringing with it those craveable tangy flavors that are not only addictive but packed with nutritional benefits to boot.
Yet neither of them is ice cream.
In case you’re wondering exactly what everyone’s favorite summertime treat has to do with the food trend that’s blowing up Instagram, we have two words for you.
Based in Columbia County, Culture Cream represents entirely new territory for fermentation in the Hudson Valley. It’s a passion project for Katiushka Melo, the brand’s founder and chef.
“Culture Cream started from a passion for flavors and fermenting,” she explains. An artist and chef by trade, Melo grew up in the Hudson Valley before traveling the globe to collect spices and experiences in far-off locales like Chile, India, and Mexico. While hopping back and forth from New York City to artist residencies and kitchens across the world, she grew more and more fascinated by each region’s spices and the experiences attached to them.
Back in Brooklyn, Melo launched a secret, 15-seat supper club called The Gathering. Every Friday, she invited guests to linger for hours over dishes that interwove a global palate of spices with ambiance and conversation. At the end of each one, Melo often served a final dish of ice cream to leave diners with a lingering sweetness that would stay with them well after the evening came to an end.
Around that time, Melo also established herself as an avid fermenter, tackling everything from kefir to kombucha. It didn’t take long before she found a way to fuse her passions for fermentation and ice cream and, at the end of 2017, debut Culture Cream.
Described as a “living ice cream,” Culture Cream is far from your average grocery store scoop. More along the lines of kefir and yogurt, it’s packed with gut-friendly probiotics to aid digestion and promote wellness. For each flavor, Melo takes time to consider the nutritional value of each component, selecting ingredients by hand from local farmers to ensure seasonality. She brews her kombucha and kefir, both of which are used in the ice cream base, from scratch, then incorporates good-for-you ingredients like miso, ginger, and lemongrass into pints that are decidedly unforgettable.
“I am constantly in the kitchen exploring and testing, then once [a recipe] works, it goes into my recipe bible,” Melo explains. Speaking of her kitchen, it’s a top-secret location in Hudson, and it’s where she crafts small batches of tempting flavors like Peach Basil Kefir, Pear Ginger Kombucha, and Grape Mint Kombucha, to name a few. Because Melo produces only a little at a time to minimize waste and ensure freshness, her flavors sell out quickly.
She doesn’t mind, though. A depleted inventory just means it’s time for her to return to her culinary drawing board and tap into the inspiration she’s collected from across the globe.
“I love to forage and try new things with what is around me,” she says. “I also love to scour markets around the world in hopes of adding to my spice collection and…my ice cream recipes. For example, in the Mango Merquen Kefir ice cream, I added a chili that is smoked by the indigenous Mapuche of Chili, which complements the mango extremely well.”
To say that Melo’s offerings are unique would be an understatement. To say they’re a hit would be right on the mark. In fact, her unconventional scoops have been such a success that she’s even launched a pint club program to make Culture Cream more accessible. Every week, she sends out an email with her newest flavors for locals to purchase online and pick up on Wednesdays in Hudson. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she also launched a gift delivery service to help Hudson Valleyites send pints to loved ones.
As a former NYC resident (she moved to Germantown last September to take up a role as chef at Hudson’s The Liberi School), Melo hopes to continue to offer ice cream pickup and delivery in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Germantown once it’s safe to do so. In the Hudson Valley, she was planning to open a pop-up store in Hudson this summer. Given the continued NYS on Pause restrictions in the Hudson Valley, she’s unsure if this will happen. Back in Brooklyn, she was a regular participant at Smorgasburg, the city-like food market, and used the venue as an opportunity to spread the word about her brand and put new flavors to the test. She hopes to make her way to local markets in the Valley later this year.
“As business as grown, I am starting to think about a more permanent spot as well as other unique ways to provide ice cream to people who would like to take a flavor adventure from South America to China,” she says. “In the meantime, I’m grateful to have an amazing customer base that supports Culture Cream. Really I am taking it one pint at a time.”