PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Inside the Oregon State University Food Innovation Center, in the Pearl District, we find Sarah Masoni working on some ice cream recipes.
Her title is Director of Product and Process Development, but she also considers herself a food designer and problem solver.
"I've been here for 18 years at the Food Innovation Center. I set up the Product Development Program, but I've been working the food industry for over 30 years," She said.
We met up with her on a day when she was working with Gabby Sanders and Chris Spencer, the couple behind UpStar Ice Cream. With some small ice cream makers, they're perfecting some recipes that are geared toward people on a Ketogenic diet.
Sarah explains, "On this part of our journey, we're really just looking at flavor, trying to figure out if the flavor's going to be good."
Minutes later, we start to take in the sights, scents and sounds of the science behind Sarah's journey to make food that, frankly, tastes really good.
"The first one that we're doing," Sarah said, "is a peanut butter base with a peanut butter swirl."
Together, the trio mixes and weighs different ingredients to figure out what will be the best-tasting batch.
One of the challenges in these keto-friendly recipes is limiting the amount of sugar, without losing the tasty flavor of the dessert. It sounds like an ambitous goal, but Sarah smiled, saying "well, maybe not for me, could be for some other folks."
In fact, Sarah already helped Gabby and Chris develop a series of healthy ice creams that have no artificial sweeteners, which are now on store shelves all around Oregon.
The special thing about hiring Sarah, as the UpStar duo will tell you, is having access to a woman with an extraordinary palate.
Chris remembers when they first hired Sarah to help. "She, literally, within a split second, could formulate the recipe in her mind by palletizing the individual components of our recipe, and she told us the exact things we were missing within ten seconds."
They said when Sarah recommended they change one of the ingredients, it affected the ice cream by making it even easier to scoop as soon as it's taken out of the freezer.
Gabby said that's often a problem with low sugar or sugar-free ice creams, which can be hard to scoop right away. Sarah's science background, along with her palate, are why she can quickly come up with these kinds of suggestions.
For nearly two decades, food entrepreneurs have been hiring Sarah to help fine-tune their products. She also open doors for start-ups like UpStar.
"She said you guys' product is good, but do you want it to be extraordinary?' We looked at each other, and we said 'yes, please," Chris said.
Sarah even helped UpStar get connected with the Alpenrose Dairy. Now, Upstar has access to machines capable of packing thousands of gallons of its ice cream in just hours.
It's something Gabby and Chris would not be able to afford on their own, if not for a unique partnership where a more-than 100-year-old Portland company is lending a hand to the barely one-year-old business.
They credit Sarah's wealth of connections. "So, not only is she just an expert in product development," Chris explains, "but the relationships that she has with suppliers, retailers and co-packers, it's just extraordinary and we would be nothing without her today."
At the Food Innovation Center, Sarah tastes, and tastes often when working on recipes. She's excited about the Keto diet ice cream flavors, because her goal is to help make a dessert that's both healthy and appetizing.
"It's a new item. It's an innovation. No one's making this product," she said.
As for the Keto peanut butter flavor, Sarah describes her concept and process, saying "We just adjusted the protein down a little bit and increased the fat, eliminated sugar altogether. So when you taste it, it's going to taste almost like a delicious frozen butter dessert."
She's envisioned a savory ice cream flavor. "That's how I had it in my head, it was like 'this is going to be like a delicious frozen butter." Smiling at the thought of it, she adds, it'll be "smooth like an ice cream, but it'll taste buttery."
From instant oatmeal, to sauces and snack bars, Sarah has had a hand in developing many food recipes. But her current collaboration with UpStar highlights her love for the cold treats.
"Last year, I decided I wanted to become the ice cream expert for the west coast. So last year, I decided the Food Innovation Center should to have an ice cream lab. This is part of what's happening. People coming from all over the place to do ice cream," she said
Sarah is gaining recognition for her work, but being famous or not, she savors every moment of having a job she's passionate about. "Everything I do is from love. I love people and I love food."
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