University of Guelph ice cream course student from Denmark Cathrine Osterberg.
Cathrine Osterberg

Cathrine Osterberg was 13 when she got her first job, serving ice cream. Her co-workers warned her that after scooping the stuff all day, she would grow to hate it. “I waited for that to happen, but I didn’t hate it. Not by the end of the summer: I never grew tired of it. I’ve always loved ice cream.”

She still does. Thirteen years later, Osterberg opened her first ice cream shop this past summer in her homeland Denmark. Next spring she will open a second outlet in Vietnam. For both ventures, she traces a route back to lessons learned two years ago at the University of Guelph.

In 2012, Osterberg visited Guelph on an academic exchange and took courses from food science professor Doug Goff, a longtime ice cream researcher on campus. That year, she wrote a business plan for the Nicol Entrepreneurial Competition run by the College of Business and Economics.

That visit helped to cement plans for Osterberg Ice Cream and her new shop in downtown Copenhagen. “I think Guelph has meant a lot in my ice cream business so far,” she says, explaining that she makes her own products – even the cones – from scratch.

She plans to open a second outlet in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She spent three months there in 2012 studying the market for ice cream and developing recipes for distant – and different – taste buds.

In both countries, novel and even exotic flavours are the secret ingredient for a line Osterberg is calling Taste the World. She’s bringing exotic fruits and flavours from far-flung nations to different ice cream customers.

Copenhagen patrons can sample jackfruit, red dragon fruit and mangosteen from Vietnam, paan from India and tamarind from Egypt. Using unusual ingredients sparks conversation with customers, and gives the proprietor a chance to tell a story about her products and their origins.

Alongside other novelties such as chai- and pumpkin pie-flavoured ice cream, you can find the age-old favourites in her shop. Imagine a customer’s reaction if they couldn’t get the traditional ice cream trifecta, she says: “Without strawberry, vanilla and chocolate, what kind of ice cream shop is this?”

Her planned shop in Ho Chi Minh City will be among the first ice cream boutiques there to produce fresh products on the spot, she says. For Vietnamese palates bored with red dragon fruit and mangosteen, novelties will include Nordic flavours such as sea buckthorn, elderflower and raspberry.

Growing up in small-town Denmark, Osterberg was about eight years old when she brought home a cookbook from her school library. She figures her teacher likely expected she would choose a storybook like her classmates. “When someone expects something, I go the other way,” she says.

She baked a chocolate cake, mixing and stirring in the ingredients herself. It wasn’t eating the results that she liked – although she confesses to a sweet tooth and a love of food – as much as the process. “Seeing the batter turn brown when I added the cocoa powder was great.”

She wanted to become a pastry chef, but her parents urged her to think about food science more broadly.

Osterberg completed her B.Sc. in food science at the University of Copenhagen. That’s when she really learned to appreciate ice cream. “It’s complex. There are so many aspects: sugar, fat, protein. Each nutrient counts.”

She’s still learning. This fall she took the ice cream technology course taught by Goff at U of G. A weeklong offering for ice cream makers from around the world, the course is the only one of its kind in Canada. This year marked its 100th anniversary.

Osterberg is back in Guelph this winter, completing a research project for her master’s degree in gastronomy and health at the University of Copenhagen. Working with Goff, she’s looking at how eggs and egg components affect ice cream structure. Egg yolks, for example, help bind ingredients and make the product more stable.

Osterberg still loves eating ice cream, although she confesses it’s difficult to leave behind the scientist and product developer in her. She’s always analyzing texture, flavours and other components.

“My friends hate going out for ice cream with me because I always have some scientific comments about the ice cream. They just want to enjoy it.”