Ice cream, 'U' creameries: How do the Big Ten's frozen desserts compare?

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Of Penn State's many famous attractions -- the Nittany Lion Shrine, Old Main and Beaver Stadium come to mind -- one stands above the rest as the tastiest. The Berkey Creamery at Penn State is known as one of the best college creameries in the nation, but it's not the only one of its kind.

Creameries have been a staple of life at land-grant universities, where educating farmers about safe and innovative farming practices long has been part of the curriculum. How do creameries compare at other Big Ten schools?

First, it's important to know some background about University Park's own dairy production facility. Penn State's creamery, established in 1865 behind Old Main, has been housed in various spots around the University Park campus, including the Patterson Building and Borland Laboratory, before it came to its present location in 2006 in the Food Science Building.

Today, the storefront is known officially as the Berkey Creamery, thanks to a generous donation in 2000 from Somerset, Pa., dairy plant operators Earl and Jeanne (Claycomb, Class of '48) Berkey. The current storefront is two-and-a-half times the size of the location in Borland Laboratory. The state-of-the-art production facility attached to the storefront makes it possible for the Creamery to offer consumers record amounts of dairy products -- in 2011 alone, the Creamery produced 195,000 gallons of ice cream and more than 150 flavors of frozen desserts, in addition to milk, yogurt, cheese, iced tea and other products.

Penn State students have very high standards for all things Creamery, especially ice cream. After all, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry’s, got their start through a $5 correspondence course offered through Penn State, precursor to today's renowned Ice Cream Short Course. And President Bill Clinton, while he was the leader of the free world, has been the only person allowed to mix Creamery flavors on a cone he ordered while visiting University Park; on return visits following his presidency, he wasn't granted the exception.

A bonus for attending Penn State is that Creamery ice cream is at students’ fingertips -- from the Creamery storefront in the Food Science Building to on-campus dining commons. Tom Palchak, manager at Berkey Creamery, attributes the success of the Creamery to its availability. “There’s this connection with them that crosses from their residence life into their student life,” Palchak said.

So, what’s the story on the creameries at other schools? Here's the scoop:

-- The Michigan State University Dairy Store boasts two locations and more than 40 flavors of ice cream sold, according to its website. It sells cheese and ice cream, which are processed in a 14,000-square-foot facility. The MSU Dairy Store is run by the food science and human nutrition programs in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources with the goal of preparing undergraduate and graduate students for future foodie careers.

Here’s what’s unique: The MSU Creamery has created a flavor for each Big Ten university. Penn State’s flavor, Nittany White Out, was a “white chocolate [ice cream] base with white almond bark pieces,” according to dairy plant manager John Engstrom. The flavor is currently suspended, as the supplier discontinued the almond bark. Engstrom hopes to revamp the flavor and sell it again soon.

-- Babcock Hall Dairy Store at the University of Wisconsin serves breakfast and lunch in addition to the traditional ice cream and cheeses. It also produces a few more unconventional flavors like Orange Custard Chocolate Chip and green-colored Raspberry Frozen Yogurt. Though it produces ice cream, Babcock Hall Dairy Store is most well known for its cheese selection -- it sells 21 kinds.

-- The University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers The Dairy Store, an establishment that has been producing dairy since 1917. When the UNL Dairy Store first opened its doors, it operated on a bring-your-own-cup policy and sold all the milk a customer could drink for a nickel. Today, the Huskers provide ice cream, cheese, meat and even eggs to the dormitories, Dairy Store and online store.

-- The Food and Nutrition Department at the University of Minnesota opens the Dairy Food Products Salesroom to the public on Wednesdays. The University of Minnesota is credited with developing methods of making "Blue" (not bleu) cheese in the United States. Hungry customers can select their spoils from a cornucopia of cheeses sold each week including Minnesota Blue Cheese, Nuworld Cheese, Gouda and aged cheddar, among others. It also sells ice cream, frozen yogurt and meat.

-- The University of Maryland may not be a part of the Big Ten just yet, but its ice cream is in good company as it has been in production for more than 80 years. Originally produced by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, it is now made by University Dining Services, which produces more than 25,000 gallons of ice cream a year. The Dairy designs flavors that speak directly to its audience: caffeine-hungry students. With flavors like Midnight Madness -- double chocolate ice cream with chocolate ganache and a hint of coconut -- and Final Exam Cram -- a base of cappuccino ice cream and chocolate cookies -- the Terps’ creamery has survived the test of time.

The creameries of Big Ten universities have been blessed with the gift of loyal customers. Some creameries, however, have not had such luck. Indiana University once produced unique flavors like strawberry fromage, red-hot vanilla and pink champagne before closing down its creamery services in 1998 due to a lack of demand. Purdue Creamery also closed when production costs became overwhelming.

Some schools do not have creameries at all. The University of Iowa, Ohio State, Northwestern, the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan and Rutgers all operate without producing their own ice cream.

The Berkey Creamery's Tom Palchak said there are a few strong factors that contribute to Penn State’s continuous creamery success. According to Palchak, Berkey Creamery ranks No. 1 in terms of longevity. “There’s been a functioning creamery on Penn State’s campus since 1865. This crosses generations, and students have always known Penn State to have a creamery,” he said. “Our dairy products are so much of the student experience.” In addition, the Creamery is constantly in the public eye. “When sports teams play, the media outlets, such as ESPN, always do a film segment here,” Palchak added.

“It’s a unique thing that we can claim as our own. The Creamery means so much to faculty, staff and students,” he said.

Last Updated October 29, 2013