COLLEGE PARK, Md.—Going to The Dairy at the University of Maryland is like going back in time—in more ways than one. Not only is this retail shop contained in a space that, according to head baker and pastry chef Jeff Russo, “has an old-style, 1930s or ’40s ice cream parlor feel about it,” the ice cream itself is a definite throwback to a time when Americans didn’t worry so much about fat in their diets.
Making history: Ice cream has been made on the campus of this 34,000-student university since 1924, and the recipe still contains the traditional allotment of 14% butterfat to give the ice cream its creamy texture. The Dairy, which is located in Turner Hall, sells ice cream in cones, cups, sundaes, sodas and milkshakes, as well as half-gallons to go.
“Back in the 1930s, they actually produced ice cream at The Dairy,” said Russo, whose department took over the manufacture of ice cream in 2004. “[Demand] outgrew the amount of production they could do there, so it went to the animal science department and they manufactured the ice cream for years. Now we out-produce whatever they did many times over.”
How much, exactly? “We do over 10,000 gallons a year, and it’s [still] one person, one machine,” Russo said. Special flavors with mix-ins are added by hand, such as real mint leaves for the mint ice cream, or the hand-toasted shortcake squares in strawberry shortcake ice cream, which are folded in as they are deposited.
“This really is micro-batch,” he adds.
Russo will even add liquors, such as real spiced rum to make his double rum ice cream, to the mix—first burning off the alcohol, of course.
Russo, who has been with the university for about 15 years, oversees the ice cream manufacture process, as well as the bakery needs of the UM campus.
“I’m managing both. It’s like two different animals; you handle them differently,” Russo said.
For the ice cream unit, he keeps track of bulk production days and keeps inventory on the batches.
“It’s not an everyday focus,” said Russo, who previously worked in culinary operations for Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria and Plaza hotels and was once corporate chef for the former Shearson Lehman Hutton Mortgage Corp. “I test and try to come up with new flavors a couple of times a month. It’s pretty much a turnkey system now. We do a lot of ice cream for specials.”
For example, when the university’s science division launched a research project on comets, the scientists wanted a celebratory ice cream flavor. Russo came up with Comet Crunch, which became so popular, “we were shipping it across the country to California,” he said.
The flavor featured a double chocolate ganache—Russo makes his own, never using a base—and is made in the traditional Philadelphia style of ice cream making, which is non-egg. It’s the most common method of ice cream making, he said.
Ice cream production is particularly important to the university because of its long
history on campus but also because of its history in the capital city of Baltimore, where the first commercial ice cream plants launched in the 1850s, Russo said.
Flavors galore: As part of UM’s outreach to kosher dining students, Russo has already converted 19 of the campus’s 22 ice cream flavors to kosher standards. He then created a unique Milk & Honey kosher homage, featuring honey and salted almonds (to cut the sweetness of the honey).
Flavors often come and go, based on popularity or just the need to do something different. Some of the flavors currently offered are: Mom’s Apple Pie, Fear The Turtle, Strawberry Melba, Wacky Larry’s Malt Whisky, Pancake @ Late Night, Mochalotta Mote and Cream Filled Cupcake.
Flavors and names sometimes come on whim, he adds. “Whatever comes to mind, or if a customer or department on campus wants to come up with something,” Russo explained. “For example, they do tours for potential students, and someone had the idea to call an ice cream flavor ‘Let’s Tour S’More.’ So we came up with a s’more ice cream for that.”
Russo admitted to being a bit of a perfectionist, continually experimenting with a flavor until he gets it “just right.” He’s currently working on a bread pudding flavor, for which he’s been testing added chunks of brioche and croissant to give it the “bready” taste he wants.