Penn State Creamery generates legend, lore and fascinating ice cream facts

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Lovers of Penn State’s University Creamery ice cream take fanaticism to surprising levels, often generating fascinating ice cream facts.

For instance, what’s the favorite flavor among women? How about Penn State’s number-one Internet flavor? How many creamery flavors are there? What are the “hot” flavors with the college-aged set?

That may be a bit intense for a frozen dessert. But Penn State Creamery ice cream is more than milk, cream, sugar and flavorings.

Legend and lore. With more than 100 years of tradition and so much Mt. Nittany mystique in each scoop, it’s not surprising to learn that Penn State Creamery ice cream has plenty of legend and lore surrounding it.

“It is very good ice cream, but it takes more than good ice cream to make this kind of mystique,” said creamery manager Tom Palchak.

“A lot of it is the loyalty that the alumni have for their university; it’s a high sense of ownership. It’s their creamery, and they want to share it with friends, family and visitors.

“I think it’s the history of it as well – if you do anything for more than 100 years, a tremendous amount of equity gets built up.

“Through all these years, the same quality, the same consistency – I think that all contributes to making the creamery a ‘must-stop’ place at Penn State, and one that people feel strongly about.”

Spoiling customers. It doesn’t help that Palchak and company keep spoiling the customers.

Where else can you call to request a fresh batch of your favorite flavor?

“We’re very much like the neighborhood dairy store, we do a lot of individual things,” Palchak said. “It sounds kind of hokey, and we’re not always successful with it.

“But when we can, we’ll make a special flavor for a customer – particularly if it’s a good-selling flavor that we haven’t had in a while – and we’ll call the person up to let them know it’s available.

“Recently, we had a gentleman call to say that he’d be on campus later in the week, and could we have his beloved black raspberry frozen yogurt ready for him? It happened that we were making it, so we hand-packed three half-gallons and kept them for him.”

Online access. Possibly in response to such dedication, the creamery is working on what could be called the Flavor-Cam: online access via their Web site, www.foodscience.psu.edu/creamery/creamery.html, to the creamery’s flavor selection board via the Internet, 24 hours a day.

Soon, creamery fans the world over will know when their Blueberry Cheesecake is ready.

Palchak said it’s excessive only if you don’t know how fanatical customers are about their favorite flavors.

“Death By Chocolate has the most diehard fans. If we’re out of that, we get complaints,” he said.

“But that’s a newer flavor. The one I hear about immediately is butter pecan. Butter pecan has a very strong appeal to the adults – faculty, staff and visitors.

“Students definitely prefer the ‘edgier’ flavors that have more outlandish ingredients: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Monster Mash, Lion S’Mores. Brightly colored flavors with unusual names appeal to the kids.

“The traditional flavors – vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan, Peachy Paterno – have more appeal to the adult market.”

Chocolate, for sure. The favorite flavors among the ladies? “Anything chocolate, for sure,” Palchak said.

“I think chocolate is an appealing food to the female market, whether it’s in a cake, ice cream or whatever. But comments definitely get back to us – they really relish the Death By Chocolate ice cream, Keeney Beany. Sometimes we’ll get ladies who call and ask, ‘what do you have up there that’s chocolate?’ So we’ll read them the list.”

Palchak said there’s no clear “guys” ice cream, although butter pecan makes a strong bid for the position. The senior citizen market sticks with traditional favorites, but has an unusually soft spot for bittersweet mint.

“That flavor’s over 70 years old, and it has tremendous appeal with our alumni and visitors.” Palchak said.

“Strawberry, for instance, is an interesting flavor – it’s still in the top 15 or 20 flavors nationwide, but it seems to appeal almost exclusively to older people. It has almost no appeal to younger people anymore. That’s weird.”

110 flavors. Overall, the creamery has about 110 flavors in its rotating repertoire. With only about 20 flavors in production at any given time, some fade from memory and don’t get resurrected until the staff intentionally revives them.

Palchak can rattle off the crowd favorites from memory.

“Vanilla, bittersweet mint, peanut butter swirl, Peachy Paterno and butter pecan,” he said.

“With the exception of vanilla, that’s a fluid list. Vanilla has a tremendous appeal with very young children, and also with other desserts that may have vanilla ice cream in them – apple pie, for instance.

“We’ve had one true bomb flavor: carrot cake. I liked it, but it had no appeal whatsoever. We made it and promptly threw out 95 percent of it six months later. We never made it again.”

Extreme varieties. At the other extreme are the creamery’s personalized flavors: for instance, Peachy Paterno, Keeney Beany or Cherryquist. Palchak explained that having your own flavor puts you in the most exclusive company.

“These are truly noteworthy Penn State people and events,” he said.

It started with Hall-of-Fame flavors for PSU football coach Joe Paterno, dairy scientist John Almquist and food scientist Dr. Phillip Keeney.

WPSX-TV Coffee Break was granted that status in recognition of the station’s 25th anniversary of pioneering public television. Others have followed special events: Palmer Mousseum of Almonds, Centennial Vanilla Bean.

“We try to be selective about it, because there are many good organizations with good causes that want a unique ice cream, but it’s very expensive so we try not to do it often.

“However, if you were a prominent Penn Stater at one of the Penn State campuses around the state, we could ship a unique flavor to that location.

“That’s part of our willingness to cooperate for special university events.”

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