A spoon, thermometer and pen tucked into John Harrison's pocket protector are essential tools for his tasting job at Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream.

Harrison has dipped his golden spoon into more than 200 million gallons of ice cream, testing for the essentials that make up the best frozen treats.

"Slow down," Harrison, 66, instructs. "Taste. Don't just swallow - that's for junk foods."

Harrison is in Salt Lake City this week, promoting the industry that has been in his family for four generations - making his bloodline "16 percent butterfat." His own expertise is so crucial that Dreyer's has insured his taste buds for a cool $1 million.

Most every weekday, Harrison samples batches at the company's plant in Bakersfield, Calif. And when he travels, he stocks up on ice cream at local grocery stores, tasting samples to ensure quality throughout the distribution system.

Dreyer's employs tasters at the company's six plants - including the Salt Lake City facility - but it is Harrison, who is the official taste tester.

He's careful about his profession (he has been in the industry for 40-plus years, more than 25 with Dreyer's). Harrison doesn't drink, smoke or eat hot, spicy foods. And each day begins with an herbal tea to get his taste buds going. Harrison says the regimen has ensured good health, but he lets out a booming laugh when he talks about his weight.

"Who's going to trust a skinny ice cream taster?"

But to the serious business of tasting. Appearance is the first step, he patiently instructs. There should be no unnatural colors. Vanilla - his favorite - should be a nice cream color for all four varieties, including pure vanilla, rich French vanilla, vanilla bean and the full-bodied double vanilla.

Next is body and texture. Be sure to let the ice cream temper for a few minutes at room temperature, he cautions. Most people eat it right out of the freezer at about 5 degrees. But it's 10 degrees that brings out the best flavors.

And finally, the taste. Vanilla should have a clean dairy flavor, subtle but not overpowering. Other varieties should have a balance between the fresh cream, sweeteners and flavorings.
Harrison has eaten more than his share of ice cream through the years, but official tests are similar to wine tastings. He swirls a sample around in his mouth, smacks his lips to aerate the product, brings the aroma back through his nose and, yes, he spits it out.

The company is banking on Utahns eating more Dreyer's (which on the East Coast is marketed as Edy's Grand Ice Cream, and as a combined brand has the largest U.S. market share). Earlier this year, the company retired the Utah-based Snelgrove Ice Cream brand. The Salt Lake City plant exclusively manufactures about 150 Dreyer's varieties, which are shipped to eight states in the Intermountain West, said spokesman Gary Lay.

Among those varieties is Cookies 'N Cream, introduced in 1983 and now No. 6 on Dreyer's list of best-selling ice cream (vanilla is No. 1). Harrison said he got the idea for the Dreyer's flavor after being served a dish of vanilla ice cream set off by small cookies. His thought was, "Let's skip a step." He experimented with several different cookies, finally settling on Oreos.

Consumers can vote for their favorite flavors. Based on online ballots, Dreyer's has introduced the American Idol Take the Cake variety, with flavors of yellow cake, frosting and light sprinkles.