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From Cow To Cone: A Brief History Of Penn State’s Ice Cream Courses

Penn State is no stranger to the ice cream business. In fact, Penn State instructors have been taking students from “Cow to Cone” since 1892 with the creation of the Ice Cream Short Course.

The Ice Cream Short Course was created over a century ago to teach participants about all things related to the frozen dessert business. Nowadays, the class is comprised of an intense seven-day course, where students from around the world come to Happy Valley to learn from the very best in ice cream making.

Former students of the course include representatives from Baskin-Robbins, Blue Bell Creamery, Haagen-Dazs, and the one and only Ben and Jerry, just to name a few.

“Just about every major ice cream company in the world has a Penn State connection, whether it is someone on the staff who has attended the short course or who is a Penn State graduate,” said Penn State’s Department of Food Science.

Courtesy of Penn State University Archives

In 1999, Professor Robert F. Roberts took over the Short Course. Having worked with dairy products for years in the Food Science Department, Roberts was equally excited and nervous to take over such an esteemed course.

“The first year was really terrifying. I inherited boxes of 2×2 slides from my predecessor, so it was fascinating to move these slides to a PowerPoint,” he said. “Now, I have not looked back. I have really enjoyed leading the Ice Cream Short Course.”

Courtesy of Robert Roberts

After teaching the course for a few years, Roberts began to notice students that he felt needed a different approach to learning the business of ice cream.

“There was clearly a group of people who needed something less than the Ice Cream Short Course. They needed a different focus,” Roberts said.

This is the idea that prompted him to create Ice Cream 101: Introduction to Frozen Desserts in 2004.

Instead of an intense week-long course, Roberts designed Ice Cream 101 to provide students with the basics of ice cream composition, formulation, and processing over a three-day period.

“My idea was that I could combine the lessons from the Short Course together to give students a basic idea of what running an ice cream business would be like.”

Courtesy of Penn State News

Since then, over 1,200 people have taken the class from around the world. Roberts said participants in Ice Cream 101 are more likely to be entrepreneurs than representatives from large-scale manufacturing businesses.

“I love teaching this course, and I love meeting the people because they come from all over the world and have different stories,” he said. “I particularly like teaching the entrepreneurs because they’re brave and daring in ways that I’m not as a faculty member.”

The primary difference between the two courses is the time frame and detail that goes into teaching.

“Say you give a lecture on ice cream ingredients. The difference between the courses is that we give a one-hour lecture on ice cream ingredients in Ice Cream 101. In the Ice Cream Short Course, there’s an hour on milk, there’s an hour on dairy ingredients, on sugars and sweeteners, on stabilizers, etc. Instead of a one-hour lecture, you’re getting a four-hour lecture. It’s a much deeper dive,” Roberts explained.

Some participants will take both classes because their business is growing and they want to learn more information. Others will move on and start their own business.

Roberts described how there are multiple things that make the two courses exciting.

“We really care about making sure the participants get an excellent experience, and we bring in people who are experts in their areas to teach. The participants are also extremely excited about the ice cream industry, which makes it a win-win all around, for us professors and the students,” he said.

When asked where his favorite place to get ice cream is, Robert’s response was quite fitting.

“It has to be the Creamery,” he said. “But, my absolute favorite place to get ice cream is manufacturing facilities. It’s never better than when you get it right off the machine!”

Both the Ice Cream Short Course and Ice Cream 101 take place in January and are open to participants of any age. For more information about the courses, contact the Conferences and Short Course Office.

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About the Author

Ava Brendgord

Ava is a senior from Houston, TX majoring in broadcast journalism. She loves coffee and bagels, traveling, and keeping a healthy balance between watching the news and reality television. Follow her at @avabrendgord on Instagram or email her at [email protected].

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