By Eileen Weber
Necessity is the mother of invention. That proverb couldn’t be more apropos for Pamela Aflalo and her daughter, Sophie. Experiencing a constant phlegmy cough that no doctor or allergist could prescribe an accurate remedy for, Sophie was miserable. Out of a mother’s desperation to find an answer, Aflalo did some research and discovered that dairy is one of the top causes of allergic reactions. Pulling her daughter off milk, she noticed an improvement almost immediately. There was one teensy weensy problem: Sophie loved ice cream.
As a former research analyst with culinary training, this was a perfect challenge for Aflalo. She set out to make her daughter “ice cream” without any dairy that came as close as possible to the real thing and actually tasted good. It took the better part of a year, but she finally got it right.
“My friends started ordering it and I had a light bulb moment,” she said. “With an overwhelming initial response, it was total validation.”
Thus, Nutty Bunny was born.
Aflalo purposefully uses all organic ingredients free of gums, fillers, dyes, agents, and additives (even those allowed in organic production) to craft a dessert that even the most discerning palate would appreciate. “If it’s not on your shopping list, it’s not in there!” Aflalo says with pride. Maple syrup is the sole source of sweetness—no cane sugar or agave. She often uses USDA Certified Organic Doc’s Maple Syrup from New York state or, if she has it on hand, Dorset Maple Reserve, which also follows organic practices on their 500 acres sugar maple forest in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Nutty Bunny’s texture is smooth but dense, a little like marrying pudding and natural peanut butter. In fact, it’s the combination of finely ground cashews and coconut oil, her “ice cream” base, that creates the firm texture that signals you’re eating something more closely approximating a meal than a dessert.
Before serving, be sure to leave the pint container out on the kitchen counter for about an hour to thaw enough to scoop. The consistency is so decadent that it is rock hard straight from the freezer.
Nutty Bunny comes in three main flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and double chocolate crunch. She’s adding a new flavor—orange blossom—and working on a key lime for summer time. The chocolate flavor is so über chocolaty it would make Valrhona jealous. The vanilla, her best seller, has a clean vanilla taste because of the pure extract and whole bean pod she uses. The orange blossom was actually a surprise. It has a brisk citrus flavor that masks any vanilla so it doesn’t mimic a creamsicle. I liked it more than I thought I would.
“As a creative person, all I want to do is create new flavors,” she said. “But, you have to be focused as a small business.”
So far, her product positioning is a winning one, and surprisingly, most of her customers do not suffer from dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. Strong demand can be attributed to an abundance of factors including a general shift in consumer taste towards organic, plant-based foods (mainstreaming of organic and vegan eating) and snacks with a higher protein content, along with a move away from products where sugar is the first ingredient. Nutty Bunny’s first ingredient is cashews and second is coconut milk and the line is vegan and gluten-free.
Perhaps it’s so popular simply because it hits the sweet spot between delicious and satisfying because it’s made from real food.
Aflalo started promoting her product at the Westport Farmers’ Market where, as she put it, it was a perfect laboratory because people are so honest. She borrowed time in commercial kitchens including Sugar & Olives in Norwalk until she was able to find her own commercial space in Stamford complete with a made-in the-USA, Emery Thompson batch freezer. Currently the line of frozen desserts includes pints and chocolate-coated truffles packed in a reusable tin. The truffles frequently sell better than the pints. Many of her customers like the idea of a “grab and go” snack or treat and the portion control of one truffle at a time. The tin of truffles makes a great gift, too!
With the recent cold snap over Valentine’s Day weekend, Aflalo headed to the farmers’ market thinking the weather would negatively affect her sales. She was pleasantly surprised at day’s end. “I never thought people would eat ice cream in the winter,” said Aflalo of the frigid temperatures. “But I sold just as much as if it was summer. It was my best selling day.”
You can find Nutty Bunny at the Westport Farmers’ Market on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Retail outlets include The Pantry in Fairfield, The Organic Market in Westport, Walter Stewart’s Market in New Canaan, and Palmer’s Market in Darien. Sugar & Olives in Norwalk and The Stand in Fairfield, Westport, and Norwalk serve Nutty Bunny truffles. Pints and truffles are available wholesale and by custom order. Nutty Bunny products retail at $10.99 for a pint of ice cream and $20 for the truffle tin.