San Diego’s renowned Chino Farm, beloved by some of the world’s best chefs and restaurants, is the launching point for an ice cream company that showcases the pristine produce grown on the Rancho Santa Fe property and other small farms. Aisu Creamery, whose farm-to-pint ice cream is made and sold at Chino’s farmstand, is a new enterprise from Makoto Chino, the grandson of Chino Farm’s founders Junzo and Hatsuyo Chino,
Chino says he started the creamery simply because he wanted to make something he wanted to eat. He also wanted a venture of his own, separate from the legacy of his family’s business. “Ice cream is a way of having my own thing. Ownership is the most validating thing because I have to live with my own consequences,” Chino told Eater.
After growing up in San Diego, Chino attended college at Washington University in St. Louis and then to law school at UCLA. He worked at Affordable Housing Advocates, fighting for those victimized by housing insecurity. Perhaps because of his family’s history, Chino went into advocacy law. His grandparents and their children were imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona and lost their farm to people who were supposedly taking care of it. When the family returned to San Diego after World War II, the family had to start all over again, purchasing 56 acres in the San Dieguito Valley.
Chino and his partner, Elina Hood, created Aisu Creamery in March 2022 after he received a farm grant to utilize leftover produce to generate income, purchasing a top-of-the-line Carpigiani machine to churn out small batches of gourmet ice cream.
Naming “aisu” after the Japanese colloquial term for ice cream, Chino was working on its logo when he came across a distinctive font inspired by Chez Panisse, the iconic Berkeley, California restaurant founded by Alice Waters, who has championed the farm through her restaurants and cookbooks. Much to his surprise, the font was called “Mara des Bois,” serendipitously named after the delicate French variety of strawberries that have become legendary at Chino Farm. At a recent visit to Chino Farm, Waters told Eater, “I can’t imagine the ice cream wouldn’t be special. The Mara des Bois are the best strawberries I’ve ever had.”
Not surprisingly, the creamery’s most popular flavor is strawberry, with each pint made from an entire basket of the prized Mara des Bois berries. Aisu Creamery also offers about nine other flavors, including raspberry, passionfruit, mango, chocolate, and CappaChino.
“The flavor of ice cream we offer chooses itself, depending on the rain, the season, etc.,” said Chino. The ice cream includes no artificial ingredients, using the best from Chino Farm and other specialty purveyors. Escondido-based Manzanita Roasting Company supplies the coffee beans for their CappaChino ice cream and the stone fruits come from Andy’s Orchard in the Santa Clara Valley.
As chefs stop by to select Chino Farm ingredients, many of them pick up pints to serve at their restaurants; local establishments like Mille Fleurs, The Fishery, and Ranch 45 have all featured the ice cream on their menus.
Currently, Aisu is making up to 500 pints of ice cream a week and the demand is increasing. David Tanis, a Chez Panisse alum and the executive chef of Lulu at LA’s Hammer Museum, will also begin serving Aisu ice cream to his customers.
With his grant running out in March 2023, Chino is looking toward the future of the gourmet specialty upstart. Investors are what they’ll need to expand and fulfill the growing demand for the ice cream, and Chino and Hood are hoping to find a new production kitchen and may even launch a storefront. While Chino considered the space next to the Vegetable Shop on Chino Farm to set up a standalone spot, he told Eater “I just want to sit in a lab and make 500 good pints, but I know that’s not realistic. I might open up a scoop shop so people can come and taste the ice cream.”