Badgers get the inside scoop on Babcock ice cream

Ice cream and butter maker Tim Haas fills containers with In the Dark, an ice cream specialty flavor being produced during a 150-gallon run at the Babcock Dairy Plant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 17, 2010. The specialty ice cream, created for the second year in honor of the Wisconsin Film Festival, featured chocolate malt ice cream with fudge swirls, pecans, chocolate chips and truffle pieces, and was available for a limited time at the Babcock Dairy Store and Memorial Union. Photo by: Jeff Miller, UW-Madison University Communications. © Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

A recent feature by Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz in grow, the magazine of the UW’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, takes readers inside Babcock Hall for an in-depth look at the classic campus ice cream with a formula that dates back to the 1950s.

It all starts with fresh, high-quality cream from a hyperlocal source—the university herd one block away. These cows produce about 3,000 pounds of milk a day. Babcock needs between 10,000 and 15,000, so additional milk is brought in from a handful of local farms. Standard Babcock ice cream starts with a base mix of 12 percent milk fat and 10.7 percent “milk solids not fat,” components of milk including protein, carbohydrates, water-soluble vitamins and minerals.

With other ingredients, too, quality comes first. Babcock uses real cane sugar rather than corn syrup; corn syrup, although cheaper, affects flavor and texture. Babcock also uses gelatin stabilizer, a rarity in the industry because it is an animal byproduct, twice as expensive and not as shelf stable—but with Babcock’s relatively small batch and quick turnaround, that’s not a problem, and Klein believes it produces a cleaner taste.

The issue of pork gelatin in Babcock ice cream has occasionally raised some controversy on campus, especially since it’s not well advertised that only the “super premium” flavors are vegetarian. It was nice here to at least get an explanation for why the ice-cream makers favor gelatin.

Babcock is one of less than a dozen ice cream production centers on US college campuses. As the story notes (and as I mentioned back in January), the University is preparing to update the aging facility:

The demand placed on Babcock by students, researchers and industry alike points to a looming question: after 60 years of heavy use, the plant is showing its age. A capital campaign is underway for a serious upgrade to the facility, which also serves as home to the Center for Dairy Research, a program that has been crucial to the advancement of Wisconsin cheese. “Babcock Dairy is in dire need of renovation. Nearly every foundation and utility is 60-plus years old,” says Rankin. “We’d like to keep the manufacturing and educational heritage of Babcock Dairy alive and well for the next 60 years.”

Head here for the full story, including an explanation of why fresh ice cream (right out of the pictured nozzle) is reportedly the most delicious.

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