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Q and A with Jim Porcelli

by: JIM CLARK, Jim Porcelli poses with a few of Koldkist’s 300-pound blocks of ice. There’s a trick, he says, to making them clear when they freeze.

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

The iceman cometh, and neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night … No, wait. That's the postman.

Anyway, none of those obstacles stops Jim Porcelli either. And he is the iceman, president of Koldkist Beverage Ice, a family-owned Portland company for nearly 40 years, located on North Columbia Boulevard.

Porcelli's business, like everything else, slows down as the temperature drops. So we thought this would be a fine time for a ch-ch-ch-chat.

Portland Tribune: Have you noticed how cold it is outside?

Jim Porcelli: Yes.

Tribune: So what are you doing selling ice?

Porcelli: We sell a lot of ice for parties and drinks, and while we don't sell as much for cooling purposes this time of year, we do sell a great deal for anything from a New Year's Eve party to a Super Bowl party.

What's becoming more and more popular is a luge for a party, where people will buy a 300-pound block of ice and carve channels in the surface of it and pour different types of alcohol down one end and have it channel through this block of ice and come out the other end and either fill a glass or have a person put their mouth up to the edge of the block.

Tribune: Wait a minute. Didn't their mothers ever tell them never to set their lips to a block of ice? They could get stuck.

Porcelli: At that point they may not be feeling too much anyway.

Tribune: Are you selling any ice for ice blocking?

Porcelli: You mean riding a block of ice down a grassy slope? We have a Boy Scout troop in the Vancouver area that likes to take their scouts out to do that every year. I believe it's summertime, and they buy a block of ice and ride it down.

Tribune: What other unusual things do people do with ice?

Porcelli: One of the things we do this time of year is blow snow ice on trucks full of Christmas trees. Oregon sells Christmas trees all over the United States and Hawaii, and they do not want to use mechanical refrigerators in the trailers because it dries out the trees.

Instead they have us blow a blanket of snow over the whole top of the load of trees so that it will have this moist cold blanket of snow dripping cool water during its three- to five-day transportation.

And an importer-exporter from Vancouver, British Columbia, contacted me about a private label 2-kilogram bag of cube ice from pure Oregon water for a grocery store chain in Japan.

Tribune: What did you tell him?

Porcelli: I told him I wasn't familiar (enough) with the Japanese market to want to be involved in it. If he wanted to purchase some bags from me, I wanted to supply it.

Tribune: So what happened?

Porcelli: He's currently working on a label.

Tribune: Doesn't that strike you as just a little nuts - exporting Oregon ice cubes?

Porcelli: Oh yeah, but you never know.

Tribune: Any do's and don'ts when dealing with ice?

Porcelli: I look at it from a sanitation standpoint. People handle ice without using clean utensils or clean hands. I always notice that and it concerns me.

Tribune: So when you order a drink, are you wondering about the ice?

Porcelli: To a degree, because I'm sensitive to how people handle ice.

Tribune: Is it really cold where you work?

Porcelli: It is. We have had occasions where the back roll-up doors of our ice trucks have been frozen shut.

Tribune: But you're in the ice business. Wouldn't you have anticipated that problem?

Porcelli: The rainwater makes the floor wet, and then our trucks are below freezing temperature and the wet floor and the door freeze shut.

Tribune: So how do you make ice?

Porcelli: Beginning this spring we'll produce up to 450 tons of cubed ice per day with eight very large icemakers. They are 18-foot-tall tanks that have water flowing through tubes, and they each produce 1,200 to 1,500 pounds every 14 minutes.

Tribune: What about the 300-pound blocks?

Porcelli: We make those in giant molds, and in order to produce a clear block we have to freeze the water in motion.

Tribune: What do you mean?

Porcelli: In your ice cube tray at home you have still water and the air bubbles and impurities are trapped in the cube and they freeze into a white ice cube. Our 300-pound block mold, we circulate the water with a small pump similar to what you might use in a fish tank.

Tribune: But can moving water freeze?

Porcelli: Just like an icicle forming.

Tribune: So it's stirred, not shaken?

Porcelli: Exactly.

- Peter Korn