On a hot summer day is there anything yummier than a large icecream in a cone? January is the busiest month of the year for icecream shops and local outlets tell me they can serve more than 500 cones a day.
As a child my best icecream memories are of hokey pokey ones from the Tinwald Dairy in Ashburton (a treat for being well-behaved). Now, as an adult in Nelson, I'm still seeking the ideal cone for when I've been really good.
For me, "best" is an amalgam of size, freshness of cone, the flavours available, price, creaminess, appearance, service and the general atmosphere where I make my purchase.
New Zealanders are among the highest per-capita consumers of icecream in the world and, according to Tip Top, those who live in the "top of the South", eat more icecreams in a cone than anywhere else in the country. The company's recent Scoop Index showed that we ate around six scoops per person per year.
This summer my family got to know local offerings better and consumed more than our annual six scoops to research this article. My husband has been very supportive too, although he's worried about the effect of too much summer cream and beer on the six-pack abs he had when he was 18.
In the name of research, we sampled everything from the traditional vanilla, as well as some rather unusual flavours, plus real fruit icecream and gelato.
Gelato is an Italian invention, often made with milk instead of cream, and is therefore generally lower in fat. So you can eat more and not feel guilty, said my husband. For me, gelato brings back memories of travels in Europe and we found two consistently good offerings of this treat in Nelson.
Buonissimo Gelato Cafe has two outlets - one at the entrance into Richmond Mall and one in a mobilecart on Trafalgar St. As the flavours change regularly there is always something new to try, but I think that chocolate is the only way to go with gelato.
At Penguinos the sky seems to be the limit with flavour offerings. Recent specials include macchiato, chilli chocolate, mango lassi, lavender and honey, olive and balsamic vinegar, lemon and chia. If you can't decide, there is a nine-flavour tasting platter.
Toad Hall in Motueka makes natural fruit ice creams. You get to choose which fruit and then watch as staff make it.
I'm pretty sure fruit icecream is the same everywhere but somehow it just tastes better at Motueka, especially after a day at Kaiteriteri Beach. Or maybe it tastes better because you know that Toad Hall is pretty much self-sufficient with most things organic and grown locally. The cafe out the back is the perfect place to sit and enjoy the moment.
Good fruit icecreams were also found at Berrylands in Appleby and at the real fruit icecream van at the Wednesday and Saturday markets.
I reckon the latter option is excellent value at $3.50 (waffle cone 50c extra). There was a choice of boysenberry, raspberry or banana last week. Strawberry was listed on the menu but as it was a hot day, and we were late arriving, it had sold out.
Although the queues were long, the lovely owner, Damaris, still smiled at everyone and worked her machine hard to turn 40 litres of icecream and several kilograms of fruit into delicious frozen licks and slurps. Sometimes you can find her at Tahunanui Beach or at school fairs.
The traditional single icecream plain cone is a popular choice and costs around $2 at most places. So if you find any cheaper, consider it a bargain. But the other factor to consider is the size of the scoop.
I heard that the Hira Dairy had awarded itself the title of "Best Icecream Shop in New Zealand", so checked it out. They have 20 different flavours and cones were certainly large. My children were impressed and said it was definitely the best value for money.
If it is size you are after, a friend recommends finding a teenager or 20-something year-old minding the shop. They know how to dish out a massive scoop with no worries about the poor profit margin. A teenager I know who works in a Lyttelton dairy, boasts of being able to fill cones until they break, depending on the age and gender of the client.
During our research, I was interested to note that our Mister 10-year old eats icecream cones like I did as a child. He bites the bottom off and then uses the cone as an inverted straw. Very messy. This could be the reason my mother limited us to hokey pokey, rather than the more interesting, but clothes-staining, chocolate or lime flavours.