The origin story of the paleta in Mexico isn’t entirely clear. Travel to Mexico, and a common name for paleterías will keep popping up: La Michoacana. The Austin Chronicle notes that “Michoacana is a toponym, meaning someone or something from the state of Michoacán in western Mexico. But the name is used [for paleterías] in virtually every state of the country, and it is not because it's a national chain.”
As one of the stories goes, an ice cream maker from Michoacán, who spent time in the United States and was influenced by the frozen desserts there, returned to Mexico in the 1960s to set up his own shop introducing Mexico to the paleta. An alternative history claims that paleterías have been springing up since the early 1930s thanks to ice cream purveyors Agustín Andrade and Ignacio Alcazar, both Michoacán natives.
Regardless of its ambiguous backstory, the name La Michoacana became intertwined with delicious paletas. And thanks to Mexico’s relaxed copyright laws in the earlier half of the 1900s, eager entrepreneurs took the name and ran with it, opening up their own paleterías all over Mexico before making their way to the United States.
Nostalgia is a huge part of the appeal of the paleta. Gerson recalls being a child in Mexico and the pure joy of heading to the paletería with her sister for the frozen dessert. “I remember being very excited when I could reach [the paletas] on my own and got on my tippy toes to peak inside the freezer to see them. I loved how colorful they were -- it was just amazing.”
Gerson decided to open up a paletería after traveling around Mexico conducting research for her first cookbook, My Sweet Mexico. “I came back with a new purpose of sharing the sweetness of Mexico and had a dream that I would open a Mexican ice cream shop in New York because you couldn’t find anything like that in the city.” At Gerson’s shop, paletas ring up for $4 per ice pop -- well worth the cost when considering the fresh fruits and whole ingredients that make up her treats.
Up in Modesto, California is Paleteria La Michoacana, where paletas are made and distributed to retailers all across the United States and Canada. According to the vice president of sales and marketing, Paul Storke, millions of the frozen pops are sold each year -- and with good reason. “Paletas are heart-felt, non-conventional, and always evolving -- drawing on Mexican cuisine as inspiration,” he said.
The paletas from Paleteria La Michoacana can be purchased at Walmart, Safeway, Costco, and many other local grocery retailers and gas stations, and cost around $1.25 for a single popsicle and upwards of $6 for a dozen.
“Mexican food is renowned for its variety of flavors, colors, and unique combinations of ingredients,” explained Storke. “A paleta is a distillation of this passion for food… delivered in an ice cream or juice bar on a stick.” What's not to like?