The Secret to This Ice Cream: Pampered Cows
“Do you know how to tell the difference between Holstein milk and Jersey milk?” asks Jim Mitchell, proprietor of Woodside Farm Creamery. He recounts a parable that has long been a staple of dairy farm folklore. “Put a silver dollar in the bottom of two pails. Pour milk from a Holstein cow into one and milk from a Jersey into the other. You can see the silver dollar in each pail.” We’re stumped by the story until Jim explains that you can see the coin in the Holstein pail because a Holstein’s milk is so watery and thin that it is translucent. Jersey milk is thick and opaque, but Jersey cows produce much less of it—not enough to cover the coin. Dairy farmers get greater quantities from a Holstein cow, but, Jim asks, “Which milk would you rather be the foundation of your ice cream?”
At Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin, Delaware, ice cream is all about Jersey cows. (Jerseys are the brown ones; Holsteins are black and white.) A herd of thirty Jerseys is moved to a fresh field every day after their morning milking, giving them plush green grass to eat and allowing the previous days’ fields of clover, alfalfa, orchard, and rye grasses to flourish again. Although a Jersey cow’s udders yield significantly less than a Holstein’s, the milk’s luxurious character makes superior ice cream. Produced in the creamery adjacent to the milking parlor, Woodside Farm ice cream is more cream-sweet than sugar-sweet. Low overrun (meaning only a minimal amount of air is added) creates such density that when the ice cream melts it resembles marshmallow sauce rather than milk. It contains about 15 percent butterfat (heavy cream is 36 percent butterfat), which gives it a wholesome dairy-farm richness seldom found in supermarket brand name ice creams.
One of the nice things about visiting Woodside Farm, beyond the goodness of its ice cream, is the presence of the brown cows whose milk serves as the foundation of the menu. Dining facilities include al fresco picnic tables and bucolic fields adjacent to the pastures. Some customers bring blankets and box lunches. There is something mighty nice about enjoying ice cream while being serenaded by a herd of happily mooing cows who produced the milk to make it.
And make no mistake: these cows are happy. In fact, the goodness of their milk has a lot to do with their perpetual good mood, which is a result not only of the breed’s naturally pleasant disposition, but also of the pasture system where they are raised. It is not the most efficient way to keep cattle, but Jim Mitchell makes his bovines’ contentment his top priority. “Cow comfort is important,” he explains. “Happy cows mean good milk.” He doesn’t hold back when he rhapsodizes about the virtues of his Jersey cows, including their beguiling beauty.
“Holsteins’ heads are thick,” he scoffs. “Jerseys have a fine head with an elegant dished face. They are just as they were 200 years ago. They haven’t been bred for high production, but for quality.”
Woodside Farm ice cream is created in small batches using a pair of 20-quart, water-cooled machines housed in a shop with direct access to a 20-below hardening cabinet into which freshly-made pints and quarts are immediately stored. Speed is vital in the ice cream making process. The quicker the finished product gets into the hardening cabinet, the smaller the ice crystals. Small ice crystals mean smooth ice cream. On the other hand, slow freezing can be a disaster, as evidenced by the gritty consistency of ice cream in a home freezer when it slowly refreezes after an extended power failure. (By the way, Mitchell and his ice cream-making crew do approve of using a microwave oven to quick-thaw a pint that is frozen stiff straight out of the freezer. For ice cream’s flavor to fully blossom, they advise, it should be fairly soft.)
Scooped ice cream that has gone through the whole process is wonderful, but the most delicious ice cream we’ve ever tasted is what comes straight out of the machine before going into the hardening cabinet. Its texture is like soft-serve, but dense and potent. At this stage, the flavor, whatever it might be, is not the star player in the treat’s taste profile. The star is the cream itself, as opulent as crème fraiche, with vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, etc., serving as a sort of halo.
Pure as the ice cream is, and as perfect as the basic flavors are, it is difficult to resist some of the more bizarre variations Woodside Farm comes up with. When we first came by, the chefs were experimenting with Lucky Charms ice cream, including little pastel marshmallows. A perennial signature flavor is Flying Elvis: banana ice cream that contains peanut butter and chocolate chunks. One long-time favorite, sold to concessionaires at car shows and NASCAR events and sometimes available at the farm’s ice cream stand, is Motor Oil. That’s coffee ice cream with fudge and veins of caramel that are tinted green to resemble engine oil. Even that flavor is scarcely weird compared to such special-order Woodside Farm batches as Barbecue Sauce, Bacon, Garlic Amaretto Chocolate Chip, Cream of Mushroom—for the nearby Kennett Square annual mushroom festival, and Cappuccino Stout—for a local brew pub. Members of a Hindu temple in Hockessin bring their own spices, including saffron, to create ice cream that Jim Mitchell says comes out “green as Gatorade.” Vanilla is the most popular flavor, and the right foundation for hot fudge, butterscotch sauce, nuts, and whipped cream; but there is also African vanilla—made with twice the normal amount of crushed vanilla beans, turning even this commonly bland flavor into an extremist powerhouse.
Woodside Farm sells sundaes, milk shakes, ice cream cakes and pies, pints, and quarts. But there is nothing like stopping by for a cup or cone, and we appreciate the fact that you order your individual serving not by number of scoops or by specifying large or small. You indicate to the scooper exactly how much you want, and you pay by weight (the ice cream’s, not yours). As of Spring, 2014, the going rate is 55 cents per ounce.
Woodside Farm Creamery: 1310 Little Baltimore Rd., Hockessin, DE. 302-239-9847.