What many consider the best homegrown brand in ice cream. Photograph courtesy of Carmen’s Best
Food & Drink Features

This ice cream’s milk comes from cows who get massages and listen to classical music

The esteemed food blogger and restauranteur Joel Binamira gives us an inside look on how the best ice cream in the country came to being. It all started when a senator declared one day that he wanted to raise cows
Joel A. Binamira | Jun 02 2019

When Paco Magsaysay, the proprietor behind Carmen’s Best Ice Cream, offered to give us a tour of their family’s dairy farm in Bay, Laguna, my wife and I jumped at the opportunity.  I have always considered Carmen’s Best Ice Cream to be the finest locally produced ice cream, with a richness, creaminess and depth of flavor that rivals many top international ice cream brands.  I definitely wanted to discover the “secrets” behind creating such a spectacular product!  As is almost always the case in such instances, there are no “secrets” – all it takes are the finest quality and freshest ingredients; a passionate, driven, talented visionary or visionaries; and painstaking attention to critical details in the production and distribution process. A dash of serendipity doesn’t hurt, either.

Paco Magsaysay in their 27-hectare farm in Laguna. Photograph by JL Javier

 

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The story starts over a decade ago, in the lush agricultural landscape near Los Baños, Laguna.  Paco’s father, Senator Jun Magsaysay, declared one day that he wanted to raise dairy cows and produce great local milk. It seemed a somewhat harebrained idea to some, most good milk in the world being produced in places like New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland most would think, on green pastures and in cool weather as all the ads of our childhood seemed to depict. 

But the reality is, India and Pakistan produce more milk together than the U.S., China and Brazil combined! Those countries represent the Top 5 global producers, while New Zealand is surprisingly ranked only 9th.  So maybe raising dairy cows in the Philippines wasn’t such a bad idea after all…

Today, the Magsaysay herd has grown to over 250 Holstein-Sahiwals. Photograph by JL Javier

The Magsaysays imported Holstein-Sahiwal cattle (Holsteins, an excellent breed for milk, cross-bred with the Sahiwal breed of India, a tropical native) and started out by subcontracting the raising of livestock to local farmers until they eventually leased some farmland—what is now a 27 hectare farm in Bay, Laguna. 

Today, their herd has grown to over 250 Holstein-Sahiwals. They work with local farmers to raise special varieties of corn that are specifically used as feed for the cattle and they also supplement this with grasses, molasses, soy, spent grain (beer hops). The feed requirements exceed several metric tons as the cows eat some 10 percent of their body weight worth of feed daily, which are all “cut and carried” to the cows rather than cows going out to pasture.  

Where the milk is prepared. Photograph by JL Javier

At this farm, cows are billeted in relatively luxurious pens, brought copious amounts of food, provided with lots of fresh water, have access to automatic back scratching machines (think in-house masseuses) and electric fans to cool them down in the tropical heat. When they have given birth and are in the milking stage, they listen to classical music while they are hooked up to mechanical pumps that milk the cows.

Needless to say, the cows produce the finest milk with a high fat content that is marketed under the brand “Holly’s Milk”. Paco is adamant that their milk is completely unadultered and undiluted with water unlike so many other milk brands on the market.  

These cows produce the finest milk with high fat content ideal for ice cream. Photograph by JL Javier

As their dairy business grew, and the vagaries of supply and demand kicked in, they were noticing an increasing surplus, unable to market all of the fresh whole milk with a relatively short shelf life. This is where serendipity kicked in; to make use of all the “excess milk”, Paco decided to try his hand at various milk-based products, then eventually making a truly premium ice cream, naming his product “Carmen’s Best” after his only daughter, Carmen.  

Good ice cream is really the result of very few ingredients: the finest milk/cream with lots of fat, sugar, and flavoring such as vanilla, fruit, nuts, caramel, chocolate, etc. High fat content results in ice cream with a creamy smooth texture that doesn’t turn grainy or icy after being frozen.  

The advantage that Carmen’s Best has over all its competitors is that they have full control over their milk production and processing, ensuring the finest quality and the highest cream/fat content desirable. They avoid the practice of shortcuts and artificial additives, preservatives, etc. 

The many flavors of Carmen's Best. Photograph courtesy of Carmen’s Best

When highly commercial ice creams are a mixture of carrageenan (seaweed), various gums, preservatives with names hard to pronounce and lots of air whipped in, these examples of ice cream are a far cry from the “real thing.” 

Paco is determined to use the highest quality flavoring ingredients from all corners of the world, and concoct flavors like salted caramel, brown butter almond brittle and cereal milk, though some of my favorite flavors include Brazilian coffee and their pure, delicious vanilla ice cream.  

The ice cream is produced at a purpose specific facility at the Laguna Technopark, some distance from the Bay farm, but the milk that is raised, processed and transported in chilled vans to the kitchens is really the ultimate “secret” ingredient. Paco has garnered several awards and recognition for his ice creams and they are now available through several groceries, a store in Rockwell and even in the First/Business class sections of several international airlines.  The company also produces fine yoghurt, quesong puti and other dairy products.

The Carmen's Best store in Rockwell. Photograph courtesy of Carmen’s Best

Ultimately, the story behind all of the finest food products is a similar and comforting refrain.  Start with only the finest ingredients, make no compromises on method and consistently apply a determined passion to create the best. Food that has integrity and soul will always rise above the rest, and in this case Carmen’s Best is really the crème de la crème!

 

www.carmensbest.com