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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Sabor a Tocumbo, Michoacán-Style Ice Cream Shop

Aug 25, 2017 11:00AM ● By Melissa Mendonca

Sweet Treat

September 2017
Story by Melissa Medonca
Photos by Kelli Avila

Mauricio Rosales gets a twinkle in his eye as he tells the story of his move from the Santa Barbara area to Visalia to help his mother, Anna, open Sabor a Tocumbo, a Michoacán-style ice cream shop with all flavors made in-house.

“I was studying to fix teeth and now I’m working to break them,” he says with a laugh. “Everybody’s got a sweet tooth.” The 25 year old left his studies in pre-dentistry to follow a family tradition of making ice cream. “Now I’m here all day,” he smiles. Rosales, Anna and their team follow recipes of a cousin from Michoacán who came north specifically to teach them the traditional production methods.

“We decided to do this on our own because we’ve been living here all these years and never found everything in one site,” he says. By everything, he means ice cream, ice pops (known as paletas in Spanish), sorbets, juice and coffee bars, and what he refers to as “swap meet snacks” – sliced cucumber and jicama with chips and chamoy sauce, and the classic mangonada.

Of the mangonada, Rosales believes he and Anna have developed the best in the valley. “One customer says he’s tried every mangonada in the 559 area code and no one beats ours,” he says. “Everybody else that tries to make it does it wrong.” For the record, his version includes mango sorbet rather than the standard shaved ice, and includes the requisite mango and chile. Everything else is a secret. It encompasses the flavor profile so important to the treat – “tangy, sweet and sour kick.” Indeed, the mangonada receives rave reviews on Yelp.

Perhaps the true secret is that the shop uses fresh and local fruits and veggies from the Central Valley in the tradition of the Michoacán ice cream makers, where, he says, “Everything that was harvested during the summer gets put into ice cream and ice pops.” Rosales and Anna feel lucky to live in such a rich agricultural area.

There are no preservatives in the products and all ingredients are natural. “It really amplifies the taste of everything,” says Rosales. What sets Michoacán-style ice cream apart from traditional styles found in the United States is the flavor combinations. While Sabor a Tocumbo offers the standards of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, the vanilla is yellow from the Mexican vanilla used in
the flavoring.

The bolder flavorings include marzipan, passionfruit, soursop, tamarind, rose petal, hibiscus and lavender. “The chile pops really stand out,” says Rosales, noting that a popular paleta flavor is a combination of mango, pineapple, cucumber and jicama with chile.

For Rosales, the best offering of all is the avocado ice cream, which is by far his favorite. “You wouldn’t guess it,” he says. “It beats rose and lavender.” While he prefers the seemingly unusual flavor, he adds, “Everyone thinks lavender is the best.”

For authenticity, some of the equipment was brought in from Mexico, including the paleta molds, which give them their distinctive shape of two stripes down the middle in a classic Michoacán style.

Sabor a Tocumbo is brightly colored and reminiscent of the town for which the shop is named. Its location on South Mooney Avenue makes it accessible to a wide range of customers, and Rosales is pleased to introduce his style of product to newcomers as well as to remind others of a style they may miss from their home of origin. “They’ve seen this before and they remember it,” he says of his customers, “or they’ve never before seen a Mexican ice pop and they try it and they absolutely love it.”

He’ll admit, though, that the experience can be a bit intense at first. “It’s a mix of surprise, relief and a little bit of anxiety because there’s a wide range of things to choose from,” says Rosales. “It can be hard to decide.” Once they make that decision, though, he says he sees them come back over and over again. “They already tried something new by coming in here in the first place.”

Rosales is in the process of refurbishing a food truck so he can take the products out to the smaller surrounding communities, making the deliciousness available to even more people.

“This is a whole new set of skills,” she says of running a shop and learning the recipes. “We really enjoyed them enough to start learning to make them on our own,” he says. “We couldn’t keep enough of them in our freezer.”

Thankfully, with the opening of their shop in January 2015, that’s no longer an issue. New paletas and ice creams are made every Wednesday.

Sabor a Tocumbo • 3902 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia • (559) 735-9096

Hours: Thursday-Tuesday 10am-9pm

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