What makes Babcock ice cream so good to eat—and so good for science, students and industry?
By Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz
“I call home freezers ‘torture chambers,’” jokes Bob Bradley, a food science professor emeritus—because home consumption of ice cream generally involves so much removal and refreezing (not to mention a lot of door-opening in general), each time causing ice crystals to melt and reform bigger.
Bradley is one of Babcock’s chief flavor experts, but the enterprise does not rest on his palate alone. The plant uses both trained and random consumer taste panels to blind-test flavors under development (see sidebar for past hits and misses). Trained testers are asked pointed questions about such qualities as mouth feel, balance of ingredient blends and background flavor. For the random consumer tasters, the goal is essentially a thumbs up or thumbs down because when a formula is spot-on, not many words are needed. When the consumer tasters are left speechless, Bradley says, “That’s what you want.”
All of the factors that go into Babcock—fresh, high quality ingredients, state-of-the-art processing, painstaking attention to flavor—work together to create the best ice cream possible, which Bradley says is the entire point.
“We are called upon by industry to assist them,” says Bradley. “We have to show people how it’s done—and we do it right.”
The experts at Babcock are indeed called upon by industry, and they rise to that call on a regular basis. “Every couple of weeks we have a company coming in,” says Bill Klein. “We never advertise and the phone just rings.”
Babcock essentially operates as a glass house, offering its substantial knowledge and equipment to established industry professionals and start-up entrepreneurs alike. For a fee, companies can visit Babcock and take advantage of a customized curriculum. There are also a number of UW-Extension short courses. They include one targeted to large scale manufacturers—the Ice Cream Makers Short Course—and another, the Batch Freezer Short Course, intended for small batch artisans, or “Ben and Jerry wannabes,” according to Scott Rankin.
“People come from literally all over the planet because we’re not trying to sell anything other than the best science-based education possible,” says Rankin. “Campus is uniquely positioned to do what nobody else can. We’re not in it for the money. We’re not a political entity. We’re not trying to push an agenda. It’s a unique, valuable experience.”
That experience is prized by industry professionals.
“The short course is really about, ‘How does the science meet practicality?’” says Bill Meagher, owner of Lakeside Creamery in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Meagher started his ice cream business in 1995, and not long after that he met Rankin, who was then at the University of Maryland. Together they developed the beginnings of the Batch Freezer Short Course that Rankin brought to Madison in 2001.
“A lot of equipment companies put on seminars about how to make ice cream using their equipment,” says Meagher. “I heard they were all good, but they’re there to sell you something. What I said is, ‘Let’s sell how to make great ice cream.’ Scott was so enthusiastic about it—yes, let’s do that, let’s teach for the good of teaching.”
Today Meagher visits Babcock Hall once or twice a year to work with Rankin and Bradley on developing new flavors and mixes based on the latest technology, something that gives his ice cream a competitive edge back home.
“I’m always searching, always trying to make it better,” says Meagher. “Trying to make it taste better, creamier, last longer.”
Tags: Babcock, Bill Klein, Bob Bradley, Dairy, food engineering, Food science, ice cream, Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz, Scott Rankin
Posted in Featured, Food, Main feature, On The Cover, Summer 2012 | 11 Comments »