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French Ice Cream 101: An introduction to French ice cream and sorbet

by | May 3, 2023 | Food & Nutrition

We all know that food is taken very seriously in France. But did you know there are even strict guidelines for French ice cream and sorbet?

There’s not just one French ice cream, but several, depending on how they’re made and the ingredients in them.

What is French ice cream called?

The most common word for French ice cream is “glace.”

But you’ll also see “crème glacĂ©e,” “glace fermière,” “glace artisanale ” (artisanal ice cream), “glace vĂ©gĂ©tale” (vegan ice cream), and sorbet or “sorbet vĂ©gĂ©tal”. Here’s an introduction to what all that means.

Glace 

Classic ice cream in France is called “glace.”

According to French guidelines, a product is ice cream when it’s a pasteurized mixture of different ingredients frozen beforehand: milk and/or eggs and/or other ingredients like sugar, gelatin, fruit flavoring, and even vegetables. 

When an ice cream contains at least 7% egg yolk, it can be called “egg ice cream”; when it includes at least 6% fat-free powdered milk, the legal designation is “milk ice cream.” 

Creme GlacĂ©e – Iced cream 

The designation “crème glacĂ©e” or “iced cream” requires that fresh cream be included in the composition of the ice cream, which gives it a very smooth, rich texture. It contains at least 5% milkfat, so it’s higher in calories than conventional ice cream.

The photo below of my favorite ice cream from the Berthillon shop in Paris has “Crème GlacĂ©e” written on the package, not “glace” because it contains fresh cream.

A Box of Berthillon Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Glace fermière

Farmhouse ice cream or “glace fermière” is not exempt from the rules, au contraire.

In fact, legislation regulates the terms “farmer” or “farm”: they can only be used for transformations carried out by farmers.

In addition, the farmer must be the one producing the agricultural materials used in ice cream (milk and fruit, in particular). They must also carry out the processing of the product themselves, in a non-industrial manner, on their farm, or in an approved workshop.

“Glace Artisanale” – Artisanal Ice Cream

If ice cream makes a claim to be artisanal, or “glace artisanale” then the use of powders (like powdered milk) or any other ready-to-use device manufactured by industrial companies is forbidden. 

“Glace VĂ©gĂ©tale”Vegan Ice Cream

The French call vegan ice cream “vegetable ice cream” or “glace vĂ©gĂ©tale.” 

They use the name “ice cream” for a product containing vegetable fats with no minimum % and non-dairy proteins.

In France, vegetable ice cream means the animal proteins (milk, eggs) that make up the ice cream have been replaced by vegetable proteins (soya juice, oat juice, pea proteins, “vegetable milk,” etc).

What is the difference between French ice cream and regular ice cream?

Unlike regular or Italian ice cream, for example, French ice cream is creamier and heavier.

It contains more butterfat, meaning it has more cream. 

Strangely enough, in France ice cream (“glace”) and iced cream (“crème glacĂ©e) are not considered dairy products, despite their milk or cream content. 

What is the difference between French ice cream and American ice cream?

French ice cream is made with eggs so it’s thick and custardy whereas American ice cream (also called Philadelphia-style) is made with sugar, milk, and cream.

French ice cream doesn’t develop as many ice crystals as American ice cream. 

In the Bertillon family’s Paris shop, ice cream products are very dense because they’re not whipped up like supermarket ice cream: air has not been added.

That’s why the family recommends taking their ice cream (but not their sorbet) out of the freezer a few minutes before serving so that they’ll soften up a bit. Since it’s not easy to cut into, Bertillon ice cream takes some planning beforehand to serve, but the intense flavor is worth it.

What is the definition of a French sorbet, exactly?

Classic Sorbet – a basic definition

Sorbet is a mixture of water, sugar, and fruit (or even fruit puree or fruit juice). 

French sorbet doesn’t contain fat, only the water, sugar, and aromas that go into its preparation. 

And to be called a sorbet in France, it must contain a minimum of 25% fruit (20% for pineapple or banana and acidic fruits like lemon).

There’s even a “sorbet plein fruit” or “full fruit sorbet” where the fruit content is 45%!

Other types of Sorbet: “Sorbet VĂ©gĂ©tal” (Vegetable Sorbet)

Fruit can be replaced by vegetables, plants, spices, or even alcohol, but there can’t be any fat among the product’s ingredients, otherwise, it doesn’t qualify as a sorbet. 

If a product is a vegetable sorbet, the vegetable content should be at least 25% (unless it is a strong-flavored vegetable, such as celery or bell pepper, then only 10% is required). 

In the case of alcohol, spice, or plant-based sorbets, the aromatic reference must be used in a high enough dose so that the finished product has the characteristic flavor of that main ingredient.

Blueberry and Peach Sorbets for Summer at Berthillon

Is there a difference between sherbet and sorbet?

Sherbet and sorbet are made with different ingredients.

Sorbet is made from two main ingredients, fruit, and sugar. 

Sherbet is also made from fruit and sugar, but it also includes cream.

What are the most popular ice cream flavors and sorbet flavors in France? 

The most popular ice cream flavors in France are:

1. vanilla

2. chocolate

3 & 4. pistachio and lemon sorbet (it’s a tie!)

5. caramel (see my favorite brand in the photo above)

The most popular sorbet flavors in France are lemon sorbet and framboise (raspberry) sorbet.

Rose flavoring goes very well with raspberry or other sorbets made with red berries. The French have been using flowers in desserts since the 18th century.

My favorite sorbet from Berthillon in Paris is their Raspberry-Rose sorbet.

Raspberry Rose Sorbet with Litchis and Raspberries

When you next visit France, here are my 2 favorite ice cream shops in Paris:

  1. Berthillon – Try any of the seasonal flavors of sorbet like melon or peach in summer. My favorite winter ice creams are “Marron GlacĂ©” (candied chestnut) and “Mendiant” (like a Rocky Road)
  2. Une Glace Ă  Paris – Ice cream and sorbet by a “Meilleur Ouvrier de France.” The vanilla ice cream, salted caramel ice cream and pistachio neroli ice cream are some of the best I’ve tasted.

Top 3 recommendations for ice cream makers on Amazon.com:

If you want to make French ice cream at home, here are my top 3 recommendations for ice cream makers on Amazon.com:

Cuisinart ICE30BC Ice Cream Maker, 2-Qt, Silver $96 on Amazon.com:

  • SUPERIOR FUNCTIONALITY: This brushed stainless steel fully automatic heavy-duty motor makes frozen desserts or drinks in as little as 20 minutes
  • INCLUDED: Comes with replacement lid, a double insulated freezer bowl that holds up to 2 quarts of frozen dessert, paddle, instructions, and a recipe book

Cuisinart ICE-70P1 2-Quart Cool Creations Ice Cream, Frozen Yogurt, Gelato and Sorbet Maker, $126 on Amazon.com:

  • LCD Screen with Countdown Timer,
  • Makes Frozen Treats in 20-Minutes or Less, Stainless Steel

Breville BCI600XL Smart Scoop Ice Cream Maker, Brushed Stainless Steel $497 on Amazon.com

  • 12 hardness settings; sorbet, frozen yogurt, gelato, and ice cream, Capacity 1.5 quart (1 Liter) bowl capacity
  • Fully automatic or manual functionality: Keep cool setting for up to 3 hours

And if you already have a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer, then try this ice cream attachment…

KitchenAid 5KICA0WH Ice Cream Maker Accessory (for All KitchenAid Stand Mixers) $130 on Amazon.com

  • Produces up to 1. 9 L soft Consistency ice cream, sorbets or frozen treats
  • Fast results in 20-30 minutes. Not compatible with model 5KSM3311X
  • Thorough, even freezing throughout the mixing process

Conclusion:

Remember this: The best ice cream always has whole ingredients with no shortcuts: no powdered milk, but only whole milk, for example.

There won’t be any preservatives, colorings, or “gums” to add a false sense of creaminess to the product: top-quality ice cream achieves creamy richness through its whole, natural ingredients.

What I like most about the best ice cream and sorbet makers in Paris is that the ingredients they use are full fat, pure, and very few: the base of their “crèmes glacĂ©es” for example are always whole milk, full-fat cream, egg yolks, and sugar.

There’s not a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce – and there’s no corn syrup or dextrose added.

A container of Berthillon ice cream is actually very small compared to supermarket ice cream, but a lot heavier in weight (and in price)! When taken out of the freezer it’s as hard as a rock (all that frozen milk fat is heavy).

And now you: Did you know about these varieties of French ice cream and sorbet? Have you ever been to the Bertillon shop in Paris? Drop me an email and let me know!

Are we following each other yet? Come on over and say “Hi” on Instagram and  Facebook.

Some of the links to products are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. If you do make a purchase through my affiliate link, I want to thank you for supporting this blog!

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