July 21 is National Ice Cream Day, a celebration of the cool, tasty treat that, according to the International Dairy Foods Association, generated $10 billion in revenue in 2010. Among the 1.5 billion gallons of ice cream produced in the U.S. in 2011, consumers' favorite flavor continues to be vanilla, with chocolate chip mint and cookies and cream next.
Local Ice Creameries: Ample to Sample
Much of Montgomery County, Pa., has hung onto its agrarian roots, including those associated with dairy farming, meaning there is ample to sample when it comes to old-style, made-from-scratch ice cream. We can't think of a better way to find relief from the string of hot days that have settled around the region over the past few weeks.
Merrymead Farm has a harem of hefty Holsteins that supply National Dairy Quality Award-winning milk. This milk serves as the basis for some of the richest ice cream to ever see a spoon. Over 30 flavors are generally available, and Merrymead crafts some pretty original combos, like a creamy chocolate ice cream loaded with chocolate chips and ribboned with raspberry sauce.
Family-owned Zwahlen's combines its generational expertise as both ice cream makers and chocolatiers, using Swiss recipes that originated when ice cream was cranked by hand. Daily, Zwahlen's offers three flavors: vanilla, chocolate and a unique "flavor of the day," where things go a little wild. I Love Lucy fans will savor the "dizzy redhead," which includes pieces of red velvet cake, raspberry swirls and chocolate chips.
The kids may appreciate a chance to combine learning with licking at Milky Way Farm, where they can watch robotic milking machines in action and then dig into the resulting ice cream made on the premises. The Matthews family, in charge of the farm since 1902, names its flavors for the cows that help produce them, so be prepared to dig your way into "moo-licious" servings of Cleo's coconut, Rosie's rainbow sprinkle cake or Claire's cookies ‘n' cream.
Freddy Hill Farms started as a small storefront, selling the milk that was produced, processed and packaged onsite. After learning the ice cream biz at Pennsylvania State University, the Seipt family dipped into a new product line and came up with a winner. Unique flavors include not mere coffee ice cream but espresso ice cream - plus Fluffernutter and ultimate peanut brittle. You can burn off some of the delicious calories at Freddy Hill's two mini-golf courses, driving range and batting cages.
Longacre's Dairy has been around since 1920, with hand-milking and deliveries by horse-drawn wagon. The dairy bar now features more than 40 flavors of ice cream and frozen yogurt, perfect on their own or when ramped up into sundaes. The "genuine vanilla" is laced with butterscotch. The "cherry garden" tops Maraschino-cherry ice cream with coconut, pineapple and crushed cherries. For the truly brave, the "garbage sundae" piles 10 toppings on 10 flavors of ice cream.
"Nix besser" is the German approximation of the claim of Nelson's Ice Cream: none better. Using formulas that go back to the 1950s and a history of dairy production that goes back even further, Nelson's ensures a mix of 16% butterfat (where 10% is the industry standard for most supermarket fare), checks the quality with a 20-year veteran and hand-packs the results. Nelson's supplies many local mom-and-pop stores with its gallons, but flavors can be savored at a retail location at its home in Royersford, Pa.
If you consider ice cream more as a dessert than a standalone treat, try Frosty Falls, where a funnel cake sundae can finish off your meal of roast beef à la mode, a sandwich of hot roast beef, melted Swiss cheese and a large scoop of coleslaw. Frosty Falls is near the Schuylkill River Trail, where you can take a break from hiking or biking and carb-up.
There's no need to wait until Girl Scout Cookie season to enjoy Thin Mints; Scoops offers it as an ice cream flavor. And candy connoisseurs will appreciate the Swedish Fish water ice. Scoops has become so successful that a Bryn Mawr shop is now joining its Conshohocken anchor.
Petrucci's Ice Cream offers an interesting twist on the traditional ice cream business model: dessert catering. Using a "mobile ice cream store," Petrucci's can provide an unforgettable food option at your grand opening, retirement party, company picnic or other event. Don't let the emphasis on ice cream fool you on their frozen-treat expertise. The water ice won a Philadelphia Magazine "Best of Philly" award in 2008.
Whether you're a plain-Jane vanilla or a chocoholic-Charlie with multiple toppings and sauces, it's clear that the quality ice creams in our region can't be licked.