Beneath a cone-shaped beacon hung slightly askance in Charlevoix‘s Van Pelt Alley, the psychedelic chalkboard at Brian’s Ice Cream Experience shouts out today’s flavors: cherry basil, salted caramel, vanilla rhubarb bourbon, riotously pink beet poppy seed and Brian’s favorite, chocolate.

Working their magic into a dense and delightful alchemy of Shetler’s cream, organic tapioca syrup and local produce plucked fresh from the adjacent farmer’s market, Brian and Emily Freund wake up often before the summer sun to churn three gallon micro-batches of mind-bendingly delicious, seasonally inspired ice cream and trays of exquisite handmade red velvet or margarita macarons. Brian’s flavors are inventive and sometimes avant-garde, infused with fresh herbs from Providence Farms, Sweetwater lavender grown near the shore of Walloon Lake and fresh strawberries plucked from patches at Dhaseleer Farm.

Ice cream savant, Brian Freund, found his calling during a late-night Food Network binge. After test marketing his frozen art on friends and family, Brian and his wife, Emily, moved north to Charlevoix and committed to spreading happiness via small batch ice creams, crepes and macarons. We sit down with Brian for a glimpse inside his frozen genius and to learn about the cult of morel ice cream.

How is a batch of Brian’s ice cream born?

Everything we do is small scale and painstakingly from scratch. Shetler’s milk and cream get cooked in a big pot with organic tapioca syrup, infused with fresh local ingredients and then churned slowly. Most ice cream has 50% air but ours is only 25%, which makes it so dense and rich. Each three-gallon batch takes over three hours.

Brian Freund, co-owner of Brian’s Ice Cream Experience

That’s a lot of work. What’s the reward?

Well, I get to spend the whole day working alongside my wife, Emily, and I really love ice cream; it never tastes better than when it first comes out of the machine, which I get to enjoy every morning.

How do the flavors follow the season?

The ice cream case in our shop reflects what’s happening at the farmers market across the street. When strawberries start to come in we have strawberry ice cream which morphs into strawberry black pepper, then strawberry rhubarb, then rhubarb vanilla bourbon. When Pond Hill Farm’s beets are in we’ll make beet-poppy seed.

But it was morel ice cream that put you on the map, right?

Yes. At first we were just selling ice cream at the farmers market and I needed a way to get people’s attention so we made morel ice cream and sold it at the Morel Mushroom Festival. Now it’s a spring staple.

Shine some light on the marriage of ice cream and fungus, please.

We take dried morels and steep them for days in Shelter’s cream to extract the flavor, then I finely chop them to be folded in the base with vanilla. The mushrooms add a depth of flavor and umami to the vanilla.

Ice Cream On The Road

Find frozen euphoria at these handmade ice creameries. 

American Spoon Gelato Café | 413 E. Lake St., Petoskey

Milk & Honey | 240 E. Front St., Traverse City

Moomers | 7263 Long Lake Rd., Traverse City 

Hilltop Soda Shoppe | 7117 South St., Benzonia 

Arcadia Ice House | 17073 6th St., Arcadia 

Traverse food and drinks editor Tim Tebeau writes from Petoskey. // Dave Weidner is a freelance photographer based in Traverse City.

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner