If you’re a vegan or just lactose intolerant, you’ve probably stood at your grocery store’s ice cream freezer choosing between french vanilla and chocolate yet again, as your milk-digesting compatriots gamely choose peanut butter cup or toasted marshmallow or some flavor explosion offered by Ben & Jerry’s.
If you can’t have milk, the ice cream pickins are slim, and if you’re looking to eat it out of a cone and not a carton, your options are even worse. But in recent years vegan ice cream retailers across the country have begun filling in that market gap with a variety of excellent ice cream in exciting flavors, thanks in large part to Sweet Ritual, an artisanal vegan ice creamery in Austin, Texas and their “Cool School” vegan ice cream making course.
Sweet Ritual initially opened in late 2011, after co-owners Valerie Ward and Amelia Raley conjured the idea while hanging out. Raley had just finished a masters in education and was struggling to find work when Texas cut 1,000 teaching jobs. She’d been developing vegan ice cream flavors in the kitchen at Austin’s Toy Joy. By coincidence, Ward had been a manager at Austin’s ever-popular Amy’s Ice Cream and already had a leg up on managing and marketing an ice cream business. When Raley lamented that maybe she’d just make ice cream for the rest of her life, Ward’s take was that sounded like an excellent plan. And soon, their nascent sweet life had a launching pad.
Within a year, they opened a small space in a portion of Austin chain Juiceland, offering only soft-serve vanilla and a rotating seasonal flavor. Soon enough, they purchased their first batch freezer and starting cooking up hard batch treats and testing out new flavors. By 2014, Ward and Raley had decided to step up their game, enrolling in the vegan course at Ice Cream University with Malcolm Stogo, who’s considered the godfather of modern ice cream. Stogo showed them a different way to think about making ice cream, to take what Ward calls a “deconstructed” point of view. “Dairy has fat, water, protein and sugar in it. So rather than just trying to replace cow milk with almond milk, we can replace parts of milk with other things and make a fuller profile,” she said. “It made us more into food scientists than home chefs and gave us a new equation for making ice cream.”