August 16, 2016

Article at El Restaurante Trade Magazine

Paleteria y Neveria El Paisanito

There's an icy and authentic taste of Michoacán in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Just 40 miles south of Portland, in tiny Woodburn, a family-run shop crafts a rainbow of traditional Mexican popsicles and ice cream.

Founded in 2006 by Michoacán natives Daniel and Bertha Gomez, Paleteria y Neveria El Paisanito is a popular stop on historic Front Street, where the flavors of Mexico manifest at a nearby carniceria and several grocery stores and eateries--including Luis's Taqueria, which hosted a surprise visit from then-Senator Obama, on the presidential campaign trail in 2008.

They sell ice cream and sorbet by the scoop, in flavors reflecting nearby fields--like strawberry, raspberry and rose petal--as well as exotic flavors from distant tropical shores, like mamey, nance, soursop, avocado, sapote and coconut.

Two categories of paletas are neatly stacked in glass-topped freezers. By the register customers can grab paletas in individually sealed, labeled packages, retailing for a dollar each and also available wholesale. Flavors include cucumber with chile, chocolate, walnut, rice pudding, watermelon, lime and many more. Behind the counter are the paletas artesanales. Available only in-house, these two-dollar gems are slipped into clear unsealed pouches, and include flavors such as cookies and cream, strawberries and cream, mango with chile, and vanilla, coconut or strawberry dipped in chocolate and nuts or coconut.

However, their signature item and biggest seller is the diablito--"little devil"--a bewitching blend of cold and spice, sweet and sour. It starts as an ordinary raspado: Finely ground ice topped with fruit in syrup, usually mango. With a generous dose of chile and lime on top, it's transformed into the addictive diablito. Other beverages on the menu include raspados, aguas frescas, and milkshakes.

In the back room, the production rhythm changes daily with demand and ingredients. When paletas are on the schedule, a team of three can make 3,000 or more in an eight-hour shift. Each batch of paletas freezes in 30 minutes--a fruity blend is poured into stainless steel molds and partially submerged in a circulating sub-zero liquid until solid.

Bertha develops the recipes, and daughter Erica Jauri, who helps with production and customer service, says "There are seven kids, and everyone has a part in it. The oldest brother, he's very smart with computers, so he does the website and all the graphic design. Another brother, he's very artistic: he designed the logo and painted the interior. Everyone else is more hands-on in the shop."

Previously, the Gomez family operated an ice cream truck, and travelled to Washington state to buy paletas, identifying a gap in the Oregon market. How did they learn to make their products? "We learned in Michoacán ," says Daniel. "And each year, we close October through January, so we take three months in Mexico and learn more from family and friends. We always try to bring back something new to our business." He's grateful to take time away from the shop each winter, but "the best part is working together with the family."