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From dairy to cashews: bring on the vegan ice cream

  • Tom Morrison makes vegan ice cream with liquid nitrogen at his business, Rock Salt Creamery.  Photos by ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Chocolate is poured onto a raspberry and cashew base to create raspberry chip vegan ice cream.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Morrison scoops freshly made raspberry chip ice cream, created with organic, natural ingredients. 

  • Tom Morrison serves up a freshly concocted cup of vegan raspberry chip ice cream at Rock Salt Creamery.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Morrison stands for a portrait outside of Rock Salt Creamery.

  • Tom Morrison began with Popsicle-style desserts, though has since expanded his business to vegan ice cream. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/19/2016 11:21:55 PM

He grew up on a dairy farm, but milk, cream and cows are nowhere in sight at Tom Morrison’s Rock Salt Creamery. Instead, he puts an organic, natural-flavored cashew base liquid on a chilled rock top, spreads a little organic, non-dairy chocolate for chips and squirts liquid nitrogen at the mix.

Out of the plumes of vapor comes a fresh cup of scooped dessert, icy, creamy and slightly nutty.

Morrison’s ice cream stand, part of the larger Heritage Farm in Sanbornton, is completely vegan. After some changes in his own diet, Morrison converted his products from dairy to cashews several years ago.

And despite entering what could be considered a niche market in a rural location, Morrison said business has been booming ever since.

“I thought I was taking a huge stab in the dark when I did vegan ice cream,” Morrison said.

From cows to nuts

As a kid, Morrison remembers Sunday afternoons on the farm – his family would skim the cream off the top of their raw milk from cows in the barn and make some old-fashioned handmade ice cream.

“I always loved dairy,” he said. “That’s kind of just who we were.”

When he joined with partner and Sanbornton farmer Matthew Swain to open the public farm called Heritage Farm in 2002 – complete with horse-drawn hay rides and a pancake parlor, petting farm and playground – Morrison continued his family’s tradition at Rock Salt Creamery.

“Basically, we started off as a Popsicle company,” Morrison said. “We just wanted a place for people to come and buy farm products.”

Today, he still offers frozen treats on a stick. But they are no longer the main attraction.

Instead, the dairy-free ice cream – made right in front of you thanks to a massive, 500-pound liquid nitrogen tank – is what brings people off the beaten path.

Originally, Morrison began experimenting with almond- and coconut-based ice cream in 2010.

“I wasn’t really happy with the project, so I didn’t sell it,” he said. Around the same time, Morrison was making some personal lifestyle changes, eliminating dairy, meat and eventually eggs from his diet due to health challenges.

“It increased my health – I didn’t realize it affected me that dramatically,” Morrison said.

The more he transitioned to a plant-based diet – he went completely vegan in 2010 – Morrison began to look at alternatives for Rock Salt Creamery.

“The only reason I start to change – for me your products are a reflection of who you are,” he said. “My recipes started changing to reflect my own diet.”

In the midst of this, Morrison received a recipe from a friend for vegan cheesecake made with cashews. “That kind of sparked the idea,” he said. “Why not make ice cream out of cashews?”

Six years later, Morrison’s shop has transitioned into somewhat of a health foods store merged with an ice cream stand. Containers of raw legumes, seeds and grains line one wall while health books and “spa mist” products are on another.

At the counter, Morrison can whip up any number of flavors made from natural, almost all-organic ingredients like the more traditional strawberry, raspberry or chocolate, or something a little more out there, like carrot or lemon basil.

“We still make it from scratch,” he said. “You can make whatever you want.”

He added, “During the summer, we usually carry one odd flavor just for fun.” When Rock Salt breaks out the cucumber, Morrison said, “we can’t make enough of it.”

Morrison also offers gluten-free varieties, as well as ice cream made with a natural sugar that’s kinder to people with diabetes.

“Everything – it’s all based around the same theme,” he said. “We want to be able to hand out the product and know it’s not only tasty and delicious, but it’s also good for you.”

Screaming for vegan

But ice cream made with cashews – is it really good?

Following an official Monitor taste test of Morrison’s raspberry chip flavor, the jury is in: It doesn’t taste like regular ice cream, per se, but it is tasty, once you expect to find a nutty flavor in there.

Due to fast-freezing by liquid nitrogen, the ice crystals in the dessert are smaller, which gives the product a smooth, velvety (and some may say creamy) texture.

While Morrison thought making a vegan product way out in the middle of rural New Hampshire might be a risk, that hasn’t been the case.

“It’s a growing trend,” he said. Morrison began selling his product through a co-op membership, and after finding success there, he began going to farmers markets last year.

“It was a huge success,” he said. “We couldn’t keep up with the demand.”

With the nitrogen machine to help speed up the process – he just got it at the beginning of June – Morrison will be bringing his vegan ice cream to farmers markets out of state. Eventually, he said, he may expand his space and buy more equipment.

“People like my product,” Morrison said. “That’s why we’re growing, I think.”

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