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How The Creamery Goes From Cow To Cone In Less Than A Week

The Creamery is a staple of Penn State’s culture. Walk by anytime, especially on a football weekend, and the line is overflowing out the door as visitors wait for a taste of original flavors like Peachy Paterno and Alumni Swirl. 

According to the “Cow to Cone” video on the Creamery’s website, the magic of producing Bill Clinton and every Penn Stater’s ice cream happens in a matter of only three or four days. 

Seventy percent of the milk that Creamery ice cream is made of comes from the 500-or-so Holstein cows that call Penn State home, according to Dairy Barn manager Nadine Houck. However, only 200 of those cows are milking at one time. On average, each cow produces ten gallons of milk per day.

The other 30% of the milk used comes from cows at a local dairy farm.

“Receiving milk from the University Barns is a critical component to our cow-to-cone story,” Creamery manager Tom Davis said. “It not only promotes the milk from the College of Agricultural Sciences Dairy Barns, it highlights the next step in the process: conversion of fresh milk into a broad range of fresh dairy products. 

“This goes well beyond ice cream.  As we like to say at the Creamery; ‘We are…more than ice cream.'”

The process starts with cows completing a very basic task: eating. Cows consume about 40 pounds of feed and hay and 50 pounds of silage each day. This is all washed down with anywhere between 25 and 50 gallons of water. 

From there, the cows are moved to the milking parlor and milked two to three times a day. To ensure both the safety of the cow and the milk, every cow has its udder and teats washed and cleaned prior to milking. In addition to safety, this cleaning signals to the cow that it’s time to milk.

The milk travels through sanitized pipelines from the cow to a holding tank. It’s quickly cooled to 45 degrees or below Fahrenheit, and an insulated milk truck picks up the milk every one to two days. 

When the truck arrives at the Creamery, samples are immediately pulled for testing in the lab. The milk is tested for antibiotics and bacteria.

Following a test, and given that the samples pass, the milk is pumped into a refrigerated silo. Using a touch screen control panel, milk is pasteurized and heated to at least 161 degrees for 15 seconds to kill any bacteria that may be left. Following pasteurization, the milk is sent to a homogenizer to break the butterfat particles down. This ensures that the butterfat is evenly distributed throughout the milk. 

Next on the path to becoming ice cream, the milk is sent through a separator to split the cream from skim milk. The milk is cooled to 40 degrees and sent to a holding tank. Slowly, cream is added back. Dry ingredients, like whey, sugar, milk powder, and stabilizers, are added to make an ice cream mix. Once these ingredients are mixed together this ice cream mix gets pumped to a cooling tank. The mix is cooled to 38 degrees for 24 hours.

Before the mix freezes, it is pumped into flavor vats. Liquid flavors are added and pumped into a freezer that brings the mix down to a cool temperature of 21 degrees. Again, before the mix freezes, ingredients such as nuts, chocolate chips, or cookies are added. 

The final ice cream product is sent through stainless steel piping and a metal detector on its way to the machines that will fill the ice cream containers. 

The ice cream containers are filled and taken down by an automatic conveyor system. They are then labeled, x-rayed, and sealed with a lid plus a band. The containers are packed in cases and are taken directly to the hardening room. The finished ice cream product sits in a room that is kept at -30 degrees for 24 hours. Once those 24 hours pass, the ice cream is transferred into a -25 degree freezer where it can stay for up to a year. 

“We place a 12-month-best-buy date on our ice cream products, but most don’t make it for more than a few months,” Davis said, “unless they are being held at home in fear that your favorite flavor may not be available when you want it or until the next season as some flavors are offered on a limited-time basis.”

Minus-25 degrees sounds very cold for ice cream, so how do the dedicated Creamery workers scoop such a frozen substance? The ice cream taken to the dipping cabinets is heated to a toasty 10 degrees before being served. 

A customer purchasing any of the various Creamery products is doing more than just satisfying a craving. They are supporting a local farm, a setting that’s starting to become harder to find. So, next time you enjoy your favorite ice cream, be sure to think of those farmers that work tirelessly to provide the best, safest products for their consumers.

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About the Author

Dana June Nunemacher

Dana is a redshirt sophomore, who is studying public relations. She is from the 570 and yes, she has watched The Office. Her passions in life include drinking unsweetened iced tea and spreading her love for agriculture (yee haw)! Send any cow pictures or complaints to [email protected]

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