Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My college years were wasted.

The first time I ever heard of the ice cream at Penn State it was my 21st birthday, an alcohol-free all-you-can-eat-dessert bash. My friends Boren and Dianne handed me a wrapped present, clearly a video tape. Suspecting age-related funny business, I asked: "Porn?" They looked at each other and laughed a little. "Maybe for you." This fuzzy answer was brought into focus when I unwrapped to gift to find a video detailing some of the best frozen dessert destinations in the U.S.A. I watched the video with much longing. One of the places mentioned was Penn State's Berkey Creamery.

Why I didn't immediately switch schools escapes me now.

The second time I heard of this ice cream, I was in my senior year of college. Three friends and I were planning out a performance (for which we created a fictional playwright and script) where sections of the "play" were acted out before things start to go wrong and implode, culminating in the performers storming off the stage with the "play" unfinished and the audience unaware that this was the planned ending. (I had very interesting college years.) One of the collaborators was my friend Dave Watkins, an incredible musician currently pioneering the genre of Appalachian Indie Rock. Dave suggested that our fictional playwright (a playground equipment manufacturer) should be from Central Pennsylvania, where Dave's family owned some property. That's when he told me told me his first-hand experience with Penn State's ice cream, which once again had me pondering a transfer to pursue a degree in Food Science.

So when I suggested my dad and I take a 100-mile detour to Penn State's Berkey Creamery on a recent volunteering trip to Pennsylvania, it was no ho-hum suggestion; it was a life goal that had been long set. Before I tell you about the ice cream--If I'm blogging about it, you can guess it was incredible. I keep my blog positive!--I must tell you some of the facts about this mecca of things dairy:

  • Average time from cow to cup is three days. It doesn't get much fresher than that!
  • They produce 1 million pounds of ice cream annually!
  • Their Ice Cream Short Course offered through Penn State's Department of Food Science has been around for over a century and is taken by big corporate ice cream manufacturers and owners of mom-and-pop operations. (I called and asked. It costs about $2,000, but you were wondering what to get me for the holidays.)

As for the product, there is only one flaw: when purchasing their über-creamy ice cream, they only allow one flavor per bowl. Sheepishly, my dad and I kept asking for more samples so we could make our choices count. I can honestly say, there has never been another time when tasting the samples resulted in complete and total indecision in my family. We settled on Keeny Beany (chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips and flecks of vanilla bean) and Alumni Swirl (vanilla ice cream with Swiss mocha chips and a blueberry swirl). But there were so many flavors that needed to be tried: Happy Happy Joy Joy (coconut ice cream with butter roasted almonds and chocolate chips), Peachy Paterno (peach ice cream with peach slices), Death by Chocolate... We did not have the foresight Dave had on his recent visit to bring dry ice to pack a couple half gallons for the ride home.

What's that? What do I know about ice cream since me I only post positive reviews? Well, jerk-asaurus, I'll have you know that Penn State's ice cream is the third scoop shop I've reviewed so far that is featured in Forbes Traveler list of America's Best Ice Cream. (Also featured are Toscanini's in Boston/Cambridge and Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory , not to mention two of the most recommended places by my friends, Graeter's
in Cincinnati and Ted Drewes in St. Louis.)

Note from 2012: I have now been to Berkey Creamery a few times. It continues to be worth the detours necessary to get there.

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