Laie vanilla beans. ChadLou's coffee. Manoa kiawe honey. My high school classmate Zach Villanueva is an ice cream wizard who can churn these local ingredients into some of the best ice creams you've ever laid your lips on.
It's August, summer's heating up and Sage Creamery is now green placard-official. I've been waiting with bated breath to share these premium ice creams since I had my first taste months ago. So here's the scoop: You can now find Sage at the Hawaii Farm Bureau's Honolulu Farmers Market on Wednesday at the lawn fronting Blaisdell Concert Hall and the Sunday morning Mililani Farmers Market. Four classic flavors will be available each week in scoops ($5 single, $7.50 double) and $12 pints, with a rotating special flavor of the week.
Last week's special was Minty Bitties and oh boy is it good. Super rich mint ice cream with lots of chocolate bitties to crunch on.
Villanueva has been crafting homemade ice cream for friends and family for five years. In May he began selling it on Instagram, taking pre-orders through direct message and accepting payment on Venmo. I scored a pint of Strawberry Fields after I missed out on his first run of the Essentials Pack ($35), which also included North Shore Vanilla and Paniolo Hot Chocolate.
He dropped it off at my house with a sample of his popular vanilla ice cream. I took one bite and knew this underground operation wasn't going to stay underground much longer. If you're familiar with the texture and richness of Haagen-Dazs, prepare to be shook. Strawberry Fields is like sipping a thick strawberry milkshake at a '50s burger counter. North Shore Vanilla uses organic vanilla beans grown in Laie and has a depth of flavor you just don't get with mainstream brands. I'll honestly never look at vanilla the same way.
When you nail classic flavors like these, you can do just about any flavor well.
On another run, Villanueva brought a Vietnamese coffee flavor made with beans from ChadLou's Coffee Roasters in Kailua. It has an extra rich texture with hints of dark roast coffee, mocha, toffee and sweet condensed milk. I dropped off a pint to my sister and she and her fiance devoured it that night. You're welcome, sis.
My personal favorite from Sage is cookies and cream. The base blends organic cream and Oreo cookies with bits of crumbled cookies churned in for good measure. It flashes me back to childhood.
See also: The scoop on Honolulu's new sherbet shop
Every month or so, Sage releases new flavor packs. The most recent pint set ($35) celebrated the Fourth of July with three flavors highlighting minority ethnic groups. Kunnu aya is a Nigerian beverage made with tiger nut milk and cinnamon; it tastes like horchata living its best life. Dulce de leche, or milk candy, is caramel with a touch of cream and is delicious with a sprinkle of sea salt. Kuro goma, roasted black sesame, is nutty and probably the least sweet of Villanueva's flavors but the most sophisticated.
My digestive system is selectively lactose intolerant — if the dairy isn't somehow like the milk and cream I found on trips to Japan and New Zealand, I can't handle it. Sage's organic, hormone-free dairy has no ill effect on me. I can't say this will be true for the entire lactose-intolerant world, but I'm happy.
So why bring a personal hobby to market in the middle of a pandemic? To Villanueva, it was more like why not: He created Sage in tribute to his late brother Daniel, who regretted not starting a business of his own before losing his battle with cancer two years ago. A bittersweet reason, but a passionate one. The proof is in the ice cream. Villanueva sells out of his limited release pints each time, so I've signed up for his notifications. At one time I had 12 pints from Sage in my freezer; I'm making room for more.
Wednesday 4-7 p.m.
Honolulu Farmers Market
Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall lawn
777 Ward Ave.
Sunday 8-11 a.m.
Mililani Farmers Markert
Mililani High School
1200 Meheula Pkwy