The Queen of Cuban Ice Cream
by juliet izon
“I decided to make bourbon, maple syrup, and bacon ice cream. People have gone nuts over it,” says Suzy Batlle, at her Azucar Ice Cream Company.
Mamey, mantecado, Mulatica: delicious touchstones for many Cubans. And, at Cuban-American Suzy Batlle’s ice cream parlor Azucar Ice Cream Company, they are also among the 70-plus flavors of house-made confections. The wildly popular Little Havana spot—its name means sugar in Spanish—opened in 2011 featuring a rotating list of ice creams specifically geared to the Cuban palate. The most beloved is certainly the Abuela Maria, a heady mix of guava, cream cheese, and the ubiquitous Maria cookies that has become so popular that Batlle even trademarked it. “People will see me on the street and start screaming, ‘Abuela Maria!’ Not that I look like an Abuela Maria, I hope!” Batlle says.
In fact, Azucar can trace its roots to Batlle’s actual grandmother. “She made ice cream for the family,” Batlle reminisces. “My grandfather was a sugar mill engineer, and they traveled throughout Central America and South America all the time for his job. Because of that, she was able to make ice cream from all different sorts of places.”
Growing up in Miami, Batlle sampled her grandmother’s creations every day. But it wasn’t until she was laid off from her banking job in 2008 that she realized she could turn a childhood predilection for sweets into a profitable career. Her first step? Securing a degree in ice cream from the renowned program at Penn State Creamery, where dairy masters like Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s first honed their skills.
Three years later, after perfecting her technique and flavors, Azucar launched with great acclaim in a neighborhood that certainly knows its Cuban food. “Little Havana is probably more Cuban than Cuba itself!” Batlle remarks. Thankfully, her schooling paid off: “I was selling out from day one, which is the most unbelievable story in the world,” she says.
And when it comes to refining and discovering new creations, the adage “It takes a village,” rings decidedly true here. “When I first opened, I had coconut and guava—the regular stuff like that,” she says. “But these guys at Dominoes Park were screaming that I wasn’t Cuban enough if I didn’t have mantecado [butter bun],” she adds with a laugh.
Having never tasted the flavor, which has notes of cinnamon, Batlle relied on her taste testers in the park. “I would go back and forth with little trays of ice cream, and these guys would try it and give me their critique,” she says. “One is saying [it needs] more cinnamon, while another one says, ‘No, it’s got too much!’ Finally we came up with one everybody liked, and that’s the one I serve.”
While Azucar is in no short supply of accolades, it is the validation from her customers that brings Batlle the most joy. “I’ve actually had old people come and cry,” she relates. “They like that we’re keeping the heritage going. A lot of people are losing [that]—their roots—but this is clearly Cuban,” she says proudly. 1503 SW Eighth St., Miami, 305-381-0369
photography by nick garcia