Aug 14, 201301:21 PMFood & Dining
Tasty Tidbits and Food For Thought
Ice Cream Sunday
I couldn't resist. When I got invited to a tour of Turkey Hill ice cream plant in Conestoga, Pennsylvania with a few fellow bloggers, I just couldn't resist going - I mean honestly - who could resist the promise of free ice cream?
I rose early on Sunday morning to get a timely start. The teenage foodie daughter grumbled but her urge for frozen treats eventually won out over her desire to sleep until noon. After about an hour’s drive we crossed the Susquehanna on Route 30 and drove south about 15 minutes south of Columbia to the Turkey Hill ice cream factory.
The plant is located on rolling farmlands of Lancaster County. On the property lies a ridge which was referred to by the Susquehannock Native Americans as "Turkey Hill" due to its reputation as good turkey hunting ground. The term “Turkey Hill”, which lent the company its name, was such a significant landmark it is referenced in the original sheepskin Deed from William Penn. The property was acquired by the Frey family, and Armour Frey started the business by selling milk out of his truck during the depression.
We entered the corporate office which is located right next to the original farmhouse and were greeted by the friendly staff. After donning a lab coat, hair net and steel toed shoes, we started our tour of the plant. I could write extensively on some impressive statistics about Turkey Hill we learned on the tour - - for example - - Turkey Hill buys all its milk from Pennsylvania Farmers and will soon be designated a Pa Preferred Company. Or, that the company is eco-sensitive and and obtains 20% of its power from the windmills. Or I could go into a detailed description of ice cream production, the process of testing and processing the milk in only 72 hours, and the squeaky clean machines used to mix the product.
However, the most captivating part of the tour was the seeing the freshly made ice cream being poured into the containers and making its way down the line on a busy conveyor belt. As we walked past several of these lines, our tour guide plucked off a fresh quart and scooped out samples. The first sample we had was French Vanilla. Freshly made ice cream is not yet fully frozen, and the sample of French Vanilla I had tasted like a soft mousse. It was sweet and creamy with a rich egg flavor. It was fantastic, and I sucked down the generous sample with enthusiasm.
We also tried caramel and natural chocolate, which possessed a richness of flavor which only comes from fresh ingredients. After packaging, the products are fully frozen and stored in a freezer the size of a warehouse in subzero temperatures. At the end of the tour we briefly walked through that section, and I experienced a temperature I could only imagine exists in the arctic. As we made our way to lunch, I rubbed my hands to stave off the cold numbness in my fingers!
After our tour, we were treated to lunch with the president of the Turkey Hill Dairy, Quintin Frey. I felt honored by the respectful way we were treated and we had a very nice interactive conversation with Mr. Frey and the staff. Quintin Frey, grandson of the founder of the company, has worked for the company for 22 years and noted that there are many long time employees (such as our guide, who had worked there for 19 years) and there are employees of several generations who work for the company. He noted that the company has an excellent relationship with its vendors because they treat them with integrity.
Turkey Hill is now owned by the company Kroeger, but he noted that Kroeger has similar values and has given Turkey Hill wide berth in following its values. For example, the company buys milk from farmers that pledge not to use hormones. The company also offers a line of Natural ice cream which uses only basic ingredients and excludes complicated ingredients. Skye, a fellow blogger at RealMomReviews.com inquired as to the whether the company was going to make a GMO-free ice cream as this was an important issue to her followers. The President said that that is an active conversation but the implementation of a GMO-free product would be extremely difficult. We also discussed the choices and implementation of limited-edition flavors, and gave a few suggestions of our own.
After lunch we were invited to the Turkey Hill Experience. The Turkey Hill Experience is a kid friendly museum, with interactive exhibits. There is a fee charged to participate. We entered the bustling museum and it was crowded with people of all ages enjoying the day. To me, the ice cream was the showcase. Free samples were offered upstairs. I tried coconut ice cream, a flavor I would not normally try, and I was wild about it. But the best part of the Turkey Hill Experience is the Taste Lab. There is a small additional fee for this part for of the exhibit, but I felt it was worth it. In this part of the exhibit, you are given a pint of vanilla ice cream and free access to mix-ins, lab-style flavor droppers, and thick sauces to make your own ice cream flavor.
Children and adults alike participated, and as a participating adult, felt pleasantly in tune with my inner child during the Lab. I mixed, stirred, tasted, experimented. I ate the candies and pretzels as I stirred them into the mix. At the end of the exhibit, the treats are fast-frozen for a final product. But I had tasted my mix so much there wasn't much left to take home. As we headed for the car, I was temporarily sated of my desire for ice cream. But I knew that wouldn't last. And when it did, I would be on an obsessive search for Turkey Hill French Vanilla and the ever elusive limited edition coconut!
Turkey Hill Blog for ice cream lovers: http://icecreamjournal/turkeyhill.com