Ice cream's king serves latest scoop: low-fat with flavor

HAPPY EATER

December 27, 1992|By ROB KASPER

Reuben Mattus has come up with a new ice cream. This is news for a couple of reasons. First of all, the last ice cream he made was a pretty good one, Haagen-Dazs. Secondly, this new one, Mattus' Lowfat Ice Cream, has much less fat and fewer calories than the delicious but butterfat-laden super-premium ice creams. And thirdly, Mattus, who is 80 years old, didn't need the work.

Having sold Haagen-Dazs to Pillsbury and having undergone open heart surgery, Mattus had several reasons to take life easy in his northern New Jersey home.

He didn't. And one day recently on a visit to the Washington area, Mattus sat in the dining room of a colleague and entertained a string of reporters. Dressed in a double-breasted chalk-striped suit and looking like the elder statesmen of ice cream, Mattus answered questions, gave out samples, and most importantly, ate his own creation.

"The vanilla," he exclaimed as he finished off several scoops. "This is a real vanilla."

I was not as taken with vanilla, which I thought had a honey aftertaste. But I did flips over the coffee flavor. The chocolate was quite good, if a tad icy. The cherry tasted like cherries. My pleasant reaction to these surprised me because I am generally opposed to low-fat desserts, believing that most of them were created by people who wanted to punish the populace.

Mattus' ice cream, however, not only felt like ice cream in my mouth -- cool and creamy -- it also had a strong dairy flavor and not much aftertaste. Last month it began being sold in New York, California and Florida, and is now in the Baltimore-Washington area. (According to Mitch Berliner, the distributor, the ice cream, which sells for about $2.70 a pint, can be found in selected Giant stores as well as Graul's markets, some Eddie's and in Sutton Place Gourmet.)

Not only was it good ice cream, its creator was a good story. And in between spoonfuls, I asked Mattus why, at his age, he agreed to help his daughter and son-in-law launch a new business.

He gave several answers. One was that he liked working. "When I work, I have good days and bad days, " he said. "But when you don't work, you don't any days at all."

Another was his desire to share what he called "the ice cream-eating experience" with people like himself who had been told to lay off high-fat delights.

And then there was his legacy. Haagen-Dazs was a made-up name. This ice cream carries his family name, Mattus. When his daughter, Doris, and her husband, Kevin Hurley, came to Mattus with an idea for a low-fat ice cream, they struck a deal. His daughter and son-in-law would do the legwork. Mattus would do the tasting.

When the ice cream was ready, it would bear the Mattus name. But it wouldn't go out until Reuben Mattus said it was OK.

This took some two years. The other day, as Mattus' daughter recounted the difficulties of getting a low-fat ice cream approved by her father, Mattus spoke up. "I wouldn't let you go out with it, kid, unless it was right."

Just how this family trio cut the fat and kept the flavor, they weren't saying.

They were forthcoming on their calorie counts -- 160 calories for 4 ounces of their vanilla, which they said is about a 100 calories lower than a similar serving of some of the high-butterfat ice creams and 10 calories less than a serving of some of the high-flavor frozen yogurts. The Mattus' butterfat is 3 percent; the butterfat content of ice creams usually ranges from 12 percent to 17 percent. My surmise of their recipe was that it used real ingredients and no stabilizers -- additives sometimes put in ice creams to keep them from breaking down into component parts. The Mattus trio also hinted that they deviated from the usual way ice cream is frozen.

Because of the way it is made, a pint of their ice cream takes longer to soften and be ready for serving.

Doris Hurley and her husband Kevin think that their new low-fat ice cream will be especially popular with the baby boomers. This is a generation, born between 1946 and 1964, that is past or closing in on 40, and is fighting the battle of middle-age spread.

An ice cream that tasted good but had few caloric consequences would, they figure, be the ideal '90s niche ice cream. It is not a new idea. Others have tried.

But Reuben Mattus is confident. Spooning himself up yet another serving of the ice cream carrying his name, he said, "Someday all ice cream is going to be made like this."

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