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From Avocado to Red Zin, Michoacan Ice Cream Conquers the World

The popular Mexican style ice cream moves from pushcart to storefront as Frozen Art comes to Sonoma

You would expect to find an ice cream parlor in a shopping center, and the Maxwell Center on Sonoma Highway is no different. A bright palette of contemporary colors - orange, raspberry, lime - welcomes you to  its display freezer filled with plenty of ice cream buckets.

It could be a , with if anything, trente-uno flavorsSure, there's mint chocolate and cappuccino, even strawberry cheesecake. But there are a lot more like tequila, rompope, Kahlua, and even cinnamon tortilla, with real bits of corn.

"We try to be unique," says store manager Fernando Padilla. But not before he says, "We try to make the best product we can."

Product in this case being the world's most popular dessert, ice cream. You won't find ice sculptures at Frozen Art, but you will find delicious, refreshing ice cream in the Michoacana style.  Lots of tropical fruit flavors, many south-of-the border favorites, and a fearless willingness to try just about anything that freezes up with milk and eggs.

Frozen Art opened its Sonoma location at the end of May, and by word of mouth is beginning to catch on. The Santa Rosa location opened in summer 2011 (as La Real Michoacana) by Jorge Alcazar Jr., at Dutton and Stony Point. The Sonoma store is in the space formerly occupied by a frozen yogurt shop.

Out the back door is the largest eucalyptus tree in Sonoma. It's worth a visit to show the kids that the natural world has its own wonders, too.

"Try the red zin," says Padilla. "It's made with real wine." It is, I can tell by the color and taste. Whether or not it's zinfandel is a characteristic I can't confirm.  "We have to ask for ID when we serve it."

There's also avocado, watermelon, orange and carrot (other than the color, do they really go together?), even olive oil.

"The owner had a restaurant dessert of balsamic vinegar over pear ice cream, and thought, 'Why not olive oil ice cream instead?'" The owner

Original may not be the right world - Alcazar's parents were from Michoacán, the Mexican state where the anything-is-worth-trying school of ice cream making comes from. The industry has been developing since the 1950s, and in Mexico you find neverias everywhere.

"It is estimated that about 90 percent of the Tocumban population is now employed in the ice cream business – whether making ice cream, consulting or making equipment," says Heather Irwin of Bite Club.

"Every year they have an ice cream fair in Tocumbo," Padilla tells me. "People come from all around Mexico, and other countries too." USA Today did a story on Tocumbo in 2009. A true Michoacan neveria makes their own ice cream on site, from local ingredients. It's safe to say that red zin is made from local ingredients.

Frozen Art is not the first Michoacan neveria in town. Michoacana Natural Ice Cream just north at 18495 Hwy 12, has been in that location for about four years, though they feature fewer fruit flavors these days.

Some of these flavors are not for everybody. While I applaud the philosophy behind tortilla ice cream, I'm not sure I'd order up a cone, or a bowl full of olive oil ice cream just to try with balsamic.

The children visiting Frozen Art with their grandmother on a hot afternoon, after a matinee showing of "Madagascar 3," didn't seem to mind the more experimental flavors. They stuck with watermelon and strawberry cheesecake, and loved it.

Frozen Art Gourmet Ice Cream & Paletas is open daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It's located at 19151 Sonoma Highway, down the row of shops behind Breakaway Café. Phone (707) 331 2899.

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