La Michoacana

If you’re an ice cream fan, Mexico is a destination you will love, with an icecream store (paletería) on pretty much every corner selling paletas –  popsicles made with fresh fruit, sometimes blended with milk or cream (paletas de leche) and sometimes just with sugar (paletas de agua).  We noticed that almost every one was named “La Michoacana,” meaning someone or something from the state of Michoacán in western Mexico, which stretches from the Pacific to central Mexico.   Although, at first glance, all of the stores appear the same and the name suggests a common origin in the state of Michoacán, the stores are not part of a chain,  and were curious as to the origin of the name.

Our guide on our visit to the Monarch sanctuaries and in Pátzcuaro/ Janitzio, a Michoacán native himself, assured us that this was because the state makes the best ice cream in Mexico, and whilst this may be true (indeed, the ice cream we tasted in the main square of Pátzcuaro was out of this world), I made a note to do a little research myself when we returned.

(La Pacanda in the main square in Pátzcuaro is definitely the place to go…)

There is not much in terms of the origin of the name but I did find this article from 2003 in The Austin Chronicle and this article from The Wharton School suggesting a couple of possible stories as to how the name came about and the information that follows is summarised from these sites.  The fact that there was not a “Michoacana” website was the first clue to the messy history behind the “brand”.

One version is that in the 1960s, an ice cream maker from Tocumbo, Michoacán, came to work in the United States, seeking a better life, later returning home where he used his savings to launch an ice cream and paleta-making business.  A second version suggests that in the 1930s or 40s, Agustín Andrade and Ignacio Alcazar, also natives of Tocumbo, moved to Mexico City, where they worked at a paletería, later launching their own store, La Michoacana. They were said to have brought this business model back to Michoacán, where it was copied by other enterprising ice-cream lovers!  Of course, in those days, nobody thought about copyrighting the name, and so now, regardless of the true origin of the name, even the smallest of Mexican towns have one or more “Paletería La Michoacana.”

The Wharton School article goes on to talk about how La Tocumbita S. A., a company based in Tocumbo, Michoacán, attempted to unify La Michoacana’s  brand image and product line in the 1990s by developing a franchise for the paleterías; however their attempts to convince independent storeowners to give up control were not successful.  The company claims to have developed and trademarked the ubiquitous La Michoacana logo: an indigenous girl dressed in typical clothes holding an ice cream cone with the words “La Michoacana–Es Natural” surrounding her. Variations of the logo (wording, font and image) are also widespread.  In response to this, La Tocumbita has simply redefined its own business model, instead focussing on new independent storeowners, offering them a package consisting of a formula for launching a successful store, possibly ensuring more consistency in the “brand” throughout Mexico in the future.

It’s true that looking back on our trip (and out photos), the stores were all so similar, yet they all had their own distinguishing features (design, menu, etc..) – but only when you stop and think about it. At first glance, it really does look like a chain…  In any case, this made for some much needed light reading this week as I plow through a paper for grad school.

I’m excited to announce that there will be ice cream coming up on etlw because look what arrived yesterday, courtesy of CSN Stores:

I’m VERY excited to start experimenting and hoping to recreate some tasty memories from La Michoacana!

32 thoughts on “La Michoacana”

  1. I’ll come do this research with you! Paletas are huge here (in the South) too – a woman went to Mexico, learned the craft and started up this great chain, and now she’s got competition. Hmm….

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  2. The photos in this post are luscious! Thanks for sharing your trip! I visited Patzcuaro and a few other areas in central Mexico back in 2008 and also found the ice cream to be unbelievably delicious. I’d love to go back and see the Monarch butterflies in Michoacan someday, too.

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  3. Love this post, Mardi! Ice cream is my favorite thing and these Mexican paletas look and sounds delicious! Some very interesting flavors I noted…beso de angel, tequila (bring it on!), queso??? I’m sure that you’ll come up with some great versions with your new Cuisinart. We got an ice cream maker as well last summer and it is the best thing ever!

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  4. I can’t wait to see what wonderful creations you come up with Mardi, love the ice cream sampling you did while visiting Mexico. {Thanks for making me feel homesick 😉 }

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  6. Some of the most enticing looking treats on a stick and in a cup I’ve ever seen. How lucky were you to have been able to taste it! Very excited to see what you create with your new ice cream maker.

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  7. One of the reasons I love going to Mexico – ICE CREAM! 🙂
    I just got my new ice cream maker last week…can’t wait to start cookin’! But I’d really love to see your creations!

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  8. I’m so jealous, I really, really want an ice cream maker. Have fun with it & can’t wait to see all the yummy icy things you whip up 🙂

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  9. Woo hoo! I am excited for your new ice cream maker – i have a cuisinart also, not quite the same but I love mine! Cant wait to see what you dream up, and if they are anything like those photos from Mexico it will be amazing! 😉

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  10. Hi
    I love all your information about paletas. We lived in Patzquaro in 1972 and still have many friends there. My challenge now is to find the aluminum or stainless forms they use to make the rectangular shaped paletas as that is one of their tradmarks. They usually make 20 at a time. We live near La Paz BCS and wish we knew of a paleta supply. Second best would be a supply house anywhere in the U.S. Do you have any info? Once again, fabulous photos, great info. I’ve heard it was the 2 brothers…
    Best regards Lori Berier

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