New Saturday Vendor: Cremeux Ex Machina

July 5, 2013

This week’s article was written by CUESA volunteer Janet McGarry.

Just in time for summer, a new gelato and sorbetto vendor has popped up at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. The brainchild of Jennifer Ko and Alex Saneski, Cremeux Ex Machina offers California-style artisanal sorbetti and gelati using seasonal produce from local farms and organic Jersey milk fresh from the dairy.

In October 2012, the duo launched Cremeux Ex Machina (pronounced “cree-moo ex mah-kee-na”), combining the French word for “creamy” with the Latin phrase deus ex machina, a plot device that brings a sudden and unexpected solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem. “The Cremeux part was a way for both of us to acknowledge our French cuisine background,” explains Jennifer. Ex machina comes from Alex’s love of reading. He adds, “adds, “I dislike the use of deus ex machina in stories and movies because it ruins the whole storyline, for me personally. But to have it in our name gives me a little smirk.”

“It took us a while to come up with a name,” says Jennifer. “We wanted something to come to us, and it did, we knew that it was the one.”

Opposites Attract

Jennifer and Alex met while studying at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. While they shared a passion for Italian frozen desserts, their very different personal styles clashed at first. “I complained to my mother about this annoying girl at school,” Alex recalls, “but my mother predicted, ‘You watch. You’ll end up with her.’” Sure enough, irritation developed into attraction. Alex marvels that they ran into his mother on their first date—a remarkable coincidence in New York, a city of more than 8 million. “When I saw my mother in the crowd, I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m caught!’”

After finishing school and working at gelaterias like Manhattan’s il laboratoria del gelato, Alex and Jennifer took a pilgrimage to Italy to observe the inventors of gelato in action. They were impressed by the Italians’ seriousness about their craft and intrigued by the regional differences and emphasis on local ingredients. Wanting to recreate that approach in America, they packed their bags and moved west to California—“the only place we could pull it off,” as Alex puts it.

Cream of the Crop

Jennifer and Alex have partnered with fourth-generation farmer John Taverna, owner of Chileno Valley Jersey Dairy in Petaluma, to source all of the milk for their gelato, which is made right there on the farm. They start with raw milk, which they pasteurize themselves. “The milk travels just 200 feet from the cows to the gelato machine,” remarks Jennifer.

The couple chose Jersey milk because it results in a product with 5.5% fat, creating a rich mouthfeel that that is perfect for gelato. Gelato has less fat (under 10%) and air than ice cream because the frozen liquid is scraped off the sides of the gelato machine rather than churned. Lower ratios of fat and air result in a more intense flavor and denser texture. According to Jennifer and Alex, gelato tastes best after sitting at room temperature for five minutes; the slightly warmer temperature allows the flavor to hit the tongue more quickly. Sorbetto, made with water rather than milk, freezes faster than gelato, so it requires additional sugar to prevent the water from freezing like ice.

While many large manufacturers make gelato with a pre-made ice cream base (a mixture of cream, milk, and sugar) or sorbet using puréed fruit bases, all of Cremeux’s gelati and sorbetti are made from scratch using fresh ingredients, lending a more natural texture.

Seasonal Sorbetti

Alex and Jennifer collaborate in the flavor creation process, and their inspiration comes from a variety of sources—farmers markets, their cooking experiences, or just interesting taste combinations they discover. Alex got the idea to create Orange Ginger Mezcal Sorbetto from a cocktail he tried, and their Blueberry Lemon Thyme Sorbetto is based on a pastry from culinary school.

Cremeux celebrates the bounty of California crops with flavors like apricot, blackberry, Charentais melon, Kadota fig, nectarine, peach, and white raspberry. They feature a different nut for each season: pistachios in the spring, almonds in summer, walnuts in fall, and hazelnuts in winter. Cremeux sources many ingredients from local farms, including Ferry Plaza sellers Tory Farms, Triple Delight Blueberries, and Balakian Farms. Jennifer grows some of the herbs herself.

During March and April, when there is a lull in California fruit production, they use tropical fruits like mango and papaya, a nod to their Taiwanese and Filipino roots. Vanilla, chocolate, and coffee come from places like Madagascar, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. While they prefer to use organic ingredients, flavor reigns supreme. They tested many brands of organic coffee and chocolate, but they ended up choosing fair-trade Felchlin Chocolate from Switzerland and direct-trade Intelligentsia Coffee, because their intense flavors survive the freezing process better than organic products they tried.

Jennifer and Alex are delighted to be setting up a stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, alongside many of the local farmers they source from. Although in no rush, the couple hopes to open their own retail shop in the future.

Cremeux Ex Machina can be found in front of the Ferry Building on Saturdays.

Gelato and sorbetti photos by Jun Belen, and cow photo by Cremeux Ex Machina.

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