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Getting our licks in

Nothing screams summer like a scoop of local ice cream

By Jennette Barnes
Globe Correspondent / August 14, 2011

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You can stop for ice cream anywhere, but it’s not summer without a visit to the right ice cream place, the one where they make it themselves, with milk from cows out back, right? Maybe - but the authentic farm-made experience of yesteryear is getting harder and harder to find.

Ask state agriculture officials, and you’ll learn that very few farms in Massachusetts make ice cream using milk and cream from cows raised on the property. That’s probably why the website for Shaw Farm in Dracut features a photo of dairy cows overlaid with the words, “If they say it’s homemade, ask to see their cows.’’ Richardson’s Ice Cream in Middleton could say the same.

But Dracut and Middleton aren’t exactly on the way home from the beach for people south of Boston. So, what’s a discerning ice cream lover to do?

Well, farms they’re not, but ice-cream shops in the region still make ice cream, either from raw ingredients or from ice-cream “base’’ purchased from a dairy processor. The base contains mostly milk, cream, and sugar, and even a relatively small shop can create a big list of flavors that way.

Shops that make their own can get pretty creative. Take Mister Christian’s Bounty at Nona’s Homemade in Hingham: chocolate ice cream, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and a swirl of white chocolate sauce blended with strawberries. Using ice cream base from Guida’s Milk in Connecticut, Nona’s makes flavors with all sorts of names. Hingham Harbor Sludge, which blends fudge, caramel, and Oreo cookies in chocolate ice cream, is another favorite.

Great names help make a flavor popular, said Krissy Donahue, co-owner with her husband, Tom. When they first opened, they wanted something “Hinghamy,’’ she said, and the Sludge was born. A number of other flavors, like Hurricane Madilyn, incorporate the names of their children.

Ice cream lovers relish the variety of flavors at local dairy bars. “I like the individuality of it,’’ said Matthew Doucette, 32. “If you want to have five different scoops and 18 different toppings, you can.’’

Doucette, who lives in Milton but drove to Whitman on a recent sunny day to enjoy the ice cream at Peaceful Meadows, says he feels a certain brand loyalty born of tradition. He visited often while growing up in Brockton. “This is my family’s ice cream place,’’ he said.

Of course, it’s actually the Hogg family’s ice cream place. They opened the Whitman stand in 1962, and the company still makes ice cream in Whitman for the original location and two others in Middleborough and Plymouth. Unlike many of its counterparts, Peaceful Meadows buys milk and cream and makes its own base, according to Chris Wicks, son-in-law of the couple who opened the ice cream stand.

The farm has been in the family since 1920 and originally supplied its own milk. These days, the company buys dairy products from Agri-Mark, a Methuen-based cooperative that markets more than 300 million gallons of milk a year for dairies in New England and New York.

Yes, Peaceful Meadows does have a few cows inhabiting the fields behind the Whitman location, but Wicks admits the cows are for customers’ enjoyment, not for milking. Sometimes they breed them so visitors can see a calf or two when they walk into the barn - and by all accounts, people do like the atmosphere.

“When you’re a kid, it’s about the cows and the ice cream,’’ said Derek Marconi, 32, of Whitman, checking out the barn. “And now, it’s still about the cows and the ice cream.’’

Peaceful Meadows doesn’t use fanciful flavor names, but it does offer some interesting flavors, served up in old-fashioned paper cups with their cone, cow, and ice-cream-bucket logo. The coconut chocolate almond is one of the most popular, and they offer monthly specials such as ginger in May and pumpkin in October. The frozen pudding consists of a creamy, blond ice cream with real rum and a mixture of raisins, pineapple, cherries, peaches, and apples.

Jemal Flores, 39, favors pistachio. The Long Island resident stopped at Peaceful Meadows at least five times while visiting his grandmother in Brockton this summer. “Over 30 years I’ve been coming here,’’ he said. “It’s homey.’’

Fans of a little bovine atmosphere also love Crescent Ridge Dairy, which operates a large dairy bar in Sharon and another location in Holbrook. Crescent runs a 43-acre farm at the Sharon property, raising a small number of Angus beef cows and Holsteins, though not to provide milk for the ice cream, according to Mark Parrish, a third-generation owner of the company. Parrish’s grandparents purchased the farm in 1932 and opened the store and dairy bar in 1968.

Today, Crescent Ridge contracts with Bliss Bros. Dairy in Attleboro to produce ice cream using the old family recipes. Some flavors are relatively new, but 85 percent are Crescent Ridge originals, Parrish said. They made ice cream at the farm for 35 years, but volume became a challenge. “The facility just isn’t large enough to pump out the ice cream,’’ he said.

Flavors include Moose Tracks, which is vanilla with peanut butter-filled chocolate candies and a fudge swirl, and Black Bear, which is black raspberry with chocolate chips and raspberry-filled chocolate candies. Visitors select their treats and wander around back to view the animals. In addition to the cows, the farm provides space for 4-H goats and miniature horses.

Clena Rwakabuba’s children, 8-year-old Emmanuel and 4-year-old Isabella, couldn’t get enough of the animals on a recent afternoon when the family from Stoughton stopped for ice cream. “It has animals, and it has ice cream,’’ Emmanuel said. Mom had her own reasons - making the kids happy. “In order to have peace, I come,’’ she said.

The Sharon dairy bar also has a store, where customers buy milk and chocolate milk in glass bottles and return the bottles for reuse, just like the old days. Paul Heroux of Attleboro and Bec Katz of Sharon raved about the chocolate milk, he about the flavor and she about the glass bottles. “There’s something authentic about that,’’ she said.

In Duxbury, beachgoers and others with a taste for something sweet flock to Farfar’s Danish Ice Cream Shop, founded in 1979.

“It’s kind of traditional to come here after we go to the beach,’’ said 12-year-old Sydney Isbister, just back from Duxbury Beach with her mom, sister, and friends. Asked about their favorite flavor, the sisters agreed: M&M.

Customers say Farfar’s is known for cream-rich flavor. One of the richest flavors is the Danish sweet cream, made with additional heavy cream, according to owner Andra Carleton. Farfar’s uses base from Hood, but claims credit for the recipe. Carleton’s father, Walter Simonsen, worked for Hood, and had just retired when she and other family members started Farfar’s. He knew the business and the equipment, and they named the shop in his honor. (“Farfar’’ is the Danish word for “grandfather’’ or “father’s father.’’)

Carleton said her father developed the recipe for the ice cream base still sold by Hood today. A Hood spokeswoman, Sarah Barow, allowed the claim could be true, because Simonsen was involved in the ice cream portion of the business, but she couldn’t confirm his specific role. She said details of the recipe’s history are anecdotal.

Hood also sells ice cream base to Ron’s Gourmet Ice Cream, a family business that started in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood and now has a second location in Dedham. Ronald N. Covitz, who owns a bowling alley at the Hyde Park location, originally sold soft-serve on the side. In the 1980s, he took a class on making hard ice cream. He started with basic flavors, and now offers flavors like Kahlua chip, banana, and Irish coffee.

Nationally, vanilla remains the most popular flavor. In 2009, almost 28 percent of the ice cream Americans consumed at home was vanilla, according to a 2010 report by the International Dairy Foods Association, a trade group. Chocolate is gaining, however; it rose to 14 percent in 2009 from 10 percent the year before. The diversity of flavors today means that each grabs a smaller portion of the market. Strawberry and chocolate chip, next in line after chocolate, each took just 3.3 percent.

Americans love their ice cream, consuming almost 5 gallons per person each year. The United States produces about 1.5 billion gallons a year, including frozen treats like yogurt, sherbet, and novelties. Most people stick with regular ice cream, both hard and soft, which accounts for 920 million gallons a year.

According to the report, Massachusetts was the sixth-highest state in ice cream production in 2009, behind California, Indiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Production nationwide rose dramatically in the first half of the 20th century. Although production has risen - albeit more slowly - since 1970, it has been consolidated at fewer and fewer plants. In 1970, 1,628 plants produced regular hard ice cream; two years ago, that number had plummeted to 352.

Local shops, perhaps, help fill the void, bringing ice cream production back to our communities. Not every ice cream shop makes its own; some buy from Massachusetts companies. Erickson’s Ice Cream in Carver and Oxford Creamery in Mattapoisett, for example, buy from Richardson’s.

No matter their story, ice cream makers know their business isn’t just about food. They serve up warm feelings with the cool ice cream. They feed our nostalgia and our longing for authenticity, and they bring us the pure joy of the sweet and creamy.

Ice cream, they say, is a happy business.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.

Funky flavors
Peaceful Meadows
Whitman, Middleborough, Plymouth
Frozen pudding - creamy base with real rum and a mixture of raisins, pineapple, cherries, peaches, and apples
Coconut chocolate almond - chocolate ice cream with chocolate-covered almonds
Farfar’s Danish Ice Cream
Duxbury
Danish sweet cream - made with lots of heavy cream
Negative chocolate - chocolate with big white chocolate chunks
Nona’s Homemade
Hingham
Hurricane Madilyn -vanilla with homemade brownies, chocolate chips, and fudge swirl
Hingham Harbor Sludge - chocolate with fudge, caramel, and Oreo cookies
Johnny B Good - cinnamon ice cream, chocolate chips, and homemade oatmeal cookies
Mister Christian’s Bounty - chocolate ice cream, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and a swirl of white chocolate sauce blended with strawberries
Crescent Ridge Dairy
Sharon and Holbrook
Black Bear - black raspberry with chocolate chips and raspberry-filled chocolate candies
Moose Tracks - vanilla with peanut-butter-filled chocolate candies and a fudge swirl
Sources: Individual makers