French vs. American ice cream, explained.
In most of the U.S., “custard” and “ice cream” are often used interchangeably, but depending on where you live and who you ask, they can mean markedly different kinds of scoops. The main distinction is eggs: ice cream may have them, but custard always does. The FDA mandates that any product sold as ice cream must contain a minimum of 10% butterfat, and ice cream made without eggs is often called “American” style, though there’s nothing especially American about the concept.
The FDA’s definition of frozen custard uses that same standard, but also calls for a minimum of 1.6% egg yolk solids—not that ice cream meeting custard standards has to be labeled as frozen custard—it could simply be called “French” ice cream. To add to the confusion, Midwestern and New England dairy hounds consider custard to be a specific dessert experience: a fresh, soft-serve-like ice cream that shloops more than it scoops, rich in cream and eggs and served within an hour or two of churning. What do you call that stuff if it hardens for a few hours? That’s between you and your scoop shop.