Chill Out with UConn's Creamy Confection:
ove over, Ben and Jerry: When it comes to cold confection, UConn's homemade ice cream takes the cake.
For nearly 50 years, UConn's creamy frozen dessert, made on campus, has drawn people to the University from around the state and New England.
"People tell us it's the best ice cream anywhere," says Sue Gavitt, manager of the dairy bar, where scoops, sundaes and shakes are sold to more than 100,000 people each year. "We hear it every day," she says. "Your ice cream is the best in the world."
Charlie Hatton, who has been UConn's ice cream maven for the last 28 years, is immersed in chocolate.
It's 6:45 a.m in the ice cream production room, a mini-factory, behind the dairy bar in the White building, where Hatton works amid a labyrinth of stainless steel pipes, valves and vats. Lining a series of dollies are dozens of huge bags of ingredients, waiting to be opened and poured.
Today, Hatton begins a two-day process that will yield 360 gallons of chocolate cappuccino ice cream.
Hatton hoists a 50-pound bag of sugar from one of the dollies. He climbs a short ladder and pours the contents into a large, stainless steel funnel.
In addition to sugar, the mix consists of cream, skim milk powder, water, stabilizer, emulsifier, and corn syrup solids. All ice cream flavors start with a base of either vanilla or chocolate. "If you start with vanilla," says Hatton, "you can add colors and flavor, like coffee or maple walnut."
When all the ingredients have been added, they are pumped into a 300-gallon vat, where they are mixed together. Then Hatton, assisted by technician David Schreiber, swings a pipe into another large vat, where the mixture is pasteurized. Next, the mixture is homogenized and cooled. It is then passed through pipes to a large storage tank, where it sits at 34 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours.
From the storage tank, the mixture is pumped into a flavor vat, where coloring and flavors are added. It then is pumped to a freezer, where the mix is chilled and air is added. Without air, Hatton says, "you'd end up with a solid block, like a chunk of ice." One gallon of ice cream mix will yield 1.8 gallons of finished product.
Cappuccino bits will be added today; another day, a variegator pump might swirl ribbons of fudge, strawberry or peanut butter through the ice cream.
Hatton gives a sign of approval after sampling a spoonful. The ice cream is now ready to be pumped into three-gallon tubs, stamped, labeled, and put into a freezer.
Later, a line of ice cream lovers snakes outside the dairy bar and onto the street. Nobody seems to mind the heat and humidity.
Twenty-two flavors are offered at the dairy bar, a 1950s-style soda fountain, where ice cream is offered year-round. They range from the standard chocolate, vanilla and strawberry to the more exotic: rum raisin, white chocolate raspberry swirl, chocolate cappuccino, and coffee espresso crunch. If these flavors don't entice customers to sample something new, they can try Jonathan Supreme, a concoction of vanilla ice cream, chocolate-covered peanuts and peanut butter swirl, named for UConn's mascot.
Who comes up with these flavors? Anybody with an imagination, Hatton says. "Customers make suggestions and we'll give them a shot," he says. "We'll put a sign up saying 'New Flavor' and run about 50 gallons of it."
Some flavors sell better than others, he adds. "We put out a licorice flavor many years ago and it bombed."
Many new flavors are variations of what already exists. "We'll have cherry vanilla or we'll do cherry amaretto," Hatton says. Sometimes he gets ideas for new flavors after attending dairy shows. "They'll have different types of new equipment and procedures and samples you can try," he says.
According to Gavitt, the five top sellers are Oreo (made with crushed Oreo cookies), vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter cup and mint chocolate chip. Toppings include hot fudge, butterscotch, caramel, peanut butter, strawberry, blueberry, pineapple, walnuts, M & Ms and sprinkles.
Gavitt says the dairy bar has been "busier than ever" since its relocation in 1998. But though the location is new, the recipe hasn't changed since the dairy bar opened as part of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1953, she adds.
In addition to cones and cups, the dairy bar sells half gallons, ice cream sandwiches (made with chocolate chip cookies), and ice cream cakes, made to order for special occasions.
Soon, customers will be able to learn more about the ice cream making process. A design team from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Neag School of Education is working on an interactive computer program that will be available at a kiosk outside the ice cream production room.
Dairy bar hours are Monday to Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Summer hours in June, July and August are Monday to Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.