August 28, 2015

Rocky Mountain High on Mackay's Halo Halo

Eric holding my Halo Halo ice cream in a waffle cone

Way back in the Fall of 2013, driving on Old Highway 1A from Calgary, Alberta towards the magnificent Canadian Rockies , I stopped by  the small town of Cochrane, at a Quiznos Sandwich restaurant, for a reason I could not remember.   Washroom?   Directions?   Certainly not to eat, that I do recall.  The store clerk sensing I was a tourist asked “So you’re here for Mackay’s?”

Mackay’s?  What’s Mackay’s?  The Quiznos clerk gave me the directions to the ice cream parlor, “Over at First Street.”    A 1950s frontage  that started as a road-stop General Store , the inside walls were covered with photos of  its history that goes back to 1948 when a couple James and Christina Mackay, started making ice cream to attract Calgarian day-trippers.  

To my amazement, I noticed on the sign board of ice cream flavors the words “Halo Halo”.  Is that a reference to the Halo Halo icy slushy dessert, so refreshing and cooling in hot tropical Philippines?

Can you see the Halo Halo nameplate?


James Mackay’s  granddaughter Meghan Tayfel who with husband Mark, now manages the company said, “The inspiration for Halo Halo actually came from customer requests.  The Halo Halo is really popular.  We do have a wonderful Filipino community right in Cochrane who come in for it.  Our mixture is a blend of white bean, red mung bean, jackfruit,  palm nut, and coconut gel.  I know there can be some variations to this, but this combination is the most common one we are able to purchase the ingredients for.”

Unlike Filipino-style Halo Halo ice cream where the beans and nuts are tidbits segregate from the base ice cream,  in Mackay’s version the ingredients are ground and blended in.  A superb fusion.  Don’t get me wrong – the Filipino style with more texture is appealing in its own way.

Fast forward to July 2015.  I was in Calgary for the Stampede and I was craving for Mackay’s  after two years of deprivation.  Since Cochrane is at least an hour drive away from SE Calgary, I went instead to one of Calgary Co-op’s supermarkets (which carry a limited line of Mackay’s) and got myself one of the creamiest mango ice creams I have ever licked!  During the week, I made a few stops at Fannie May Fine Chocolates SE to get a double scoop of other flavors.

Driving back to Vancouver, I made a detour to Cochrane and found myself delighted to be back at the original Mackay’s.  But no “Halo Halo” on the sign board.  I anxiously asked the server.   He said it was in the back fridge and will retrieve it.  What a relief!  He later slotted in the Halo Halo nameplate on the sign board.  The Cochrane store also offers Purple Yam (Ube) and occasionally Buko (Young Coconut).

Meghan said, “Some of the original flavors that we still have are the tried and true: maple walnut (#1 in popularity), vanilla (#2) , chocolate (#3), chocolate chip mint (#4), chocolate fudge chunk (#5), cookie dough (#6), strawberry (#7), but also  many others my grandfather made through the years that we still carry:  licorice (not for me), cookies & cream (#9), tiger (orange and black licorice swirl #10), black cherry, butter brickle, and bubblegum (#8).”

What really makes Mackay’s ice cream amazing to the taste buds is its dairy fat content.   Other supermarket brands of ice cream contain 10% - 12% butterfat, whereas Mackay’s ice cream has 16% up to 18% butterfat.  No wonder their mango was so delectable.  If you live in British Columbia, the product is only available over at Salt Spring Island, in Salt Spring Mercantile General Store, main village of Ganges.  The store sells a limited selection in scoops only ($4.25 single; $6.67 double).   Why just Salt Spring?  Why not the city of Vancouver?

Meghan explained, “We would love to be able to introduce MacKay’s to different markets in BC, however, our biggest stumbling block is transport.  Most companies will not carry ice cream due to the requirement to keep it at a constant temperature.   Salt Spring Mercantile store has a unique relationship with a transport company that is willing to do one time drops of our product just for them along with other frozen dessert products the vans already carry.”

If you really crave Mackay’s and would like to bring it home, Meghan recommends, “Anyone going for really long distances, the best way is to pack the ice cream in dry ice.  The one thing you never want to do to ice cream is shock it by exposing it to severe temperature fluctuations.”

While taking a driving break along the Kicking Horse Mountain Pass near the Alberta/British Columbia border, I had to finish my Mackay’s baon of a 500 ml bucket (almost a pint) already soft piña colada ice cream (I had it in a cooler with ice cubes).  I thought it needed more kick.

For more information about Mackay’s Ice Cream and where to buy it, see
The ice cream tubs come in 500 ml, 1 liter, 5.7 liter and 11.7 liter sizes.

Where to buy dry ice in Calgary? Call Praxair at 1-800-PRAXAIR.

BTW, the only other ice cream I have developed an obsession for is Tillamook’s Ice Cream (which is also extra creamy) in Tillamook, Oregon, but this is another story (and their cheese!).  None of those overpriced Italian gelatos, so meh meh.

What ice cream brand do you pine for?  Fess up with a comment.

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