Campus Life

Creamery offers insight into the process of deciding new flavors

Taste, affordability and availability of ingredients play major roles in ice cream production

Nick Grove filled the flavor vats with Re-Work, the creamy and smooth foundation for all of the ice cream flavors at Penn State's Berkey Creamery. Grove was working on the production team during the inaugural run of the Creamery's anniversary flavor, Birthday Cake, on the afternoon of July 1. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As Birthday Cake makes its debut as the 150th anniversary flavor at the Creamery this week, Tom Palchak, who has served as manager for more than 20 years, gave some insight on the decision making behind a new ice cream.

“Some of the things we’ll consider are whether the idea of the flavor corresponds to the taste, the availability of ingredients and whether we can afford to do it,” Palchak explained.

Getting an ice cream flavor just right can be incredibly challenging, he said. “When you get a flavor like Birthday Cake, it’s very easy to make it too sweet.”

Though the staff has had plenty of experience in developing new flavors — the Creamery will often create four to six new flavors during the course of a year — the effort can often be painstaking to get it just right.

In the case of Russ “Digs” Roseberry, a strawberry ice cream with black raspberry, raspberry sauce and dark chocolate that honors women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose, it took two years of trial and error to perfect the flavor, according to Palchak. “We were messing with it right up until we started production.”

In this episode of "This Is Penn State Shorts," Tom Palchak, manager of the Penn State Berkey Creamery, talks about some of the things that determine what flavors are offered. Credit: C Roy Parker

Even a flavor that sounds as simple such as Peachy Paterno, a peach-flavored ice cream with peach slices, requires some tweaking.

“The peach flavor is so bland, you can’t even taste it in the ice cream,” Palchak said of the diced peaches in the ice cream. To match diners’ expectations, “we add a true peach schnapps and five percent nectarine puree.”

“With Birthday Cake, it didn’t need any enhancement whatsoever,” he said.

To develop a new flavor, Palchak said the Creamery will work with a number of suppliers to provide some of the necessary ingredients, taking great pains to source as much as possible from within Pennsylvania.

“If the flavor’s in the Commonwealth and they make a good flavor, we’ll buy from them,” he said.

For example, Gardners Candies of Tyrone and Gertrude Hawk Chocolates of Dunmore supply some of the components that make up the Chocolate Pretzel Crunch. Meanwhile other ingredients have to be brought in from farther away, such as vanilla from Madagascar.

The ingredients from vendors are added to the Creamery’s base formula mix of milk and cream, which is produced on campus, before entering the ice cream freezing process.

The different seasons throughout the year have a great impact on what the Creamery will produce. When fall arrives, customers can expect to see Apple Cobbler Crunch and August Pie in the freezers. With Halloween, Monster Mash — vanilla ice cream with Oreo cookies and caramel swirl — will be produced. And winter heralds the return of Peppermint Stick, Rum Raisin and Egg Nog.

Some flavors are produced only a few times a year, such as Teaberry.

“It’s got a loyal following, but not a large one,” Palchak said of the teaberry-flavored treat.

The Creamery's new 'Birthday Cake' flavor was offered for the first time at the 2015 Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

In other instances, some flavors are no longer produced because the Creamery can no longer obtain the ingredients.

Some may remember the Creamery’s Brownie Nut Fudge, a top pick of customers in the early ’90s.

“All of a sudden it just died,” Palchak said. The reason for its disappearance was because Pepperidge Farms, which made the brownie fudge nut pieces, stopped making them.

“It was hugely disappointing,” he said.

The price of ingredients also plays a major role in whether the Creamery can produce a flavor.

Pistachio ice cream, which Palchak said is very popular with customers, hasn’t been produced lately because the price of the pistachio nut has been about $9 per pound.

“We’ll make it when we possibly can.”

Mango ice cream is an example of a flavor Palchak would love to produce, but its current cost is too high.

“I’ve tasted mango ice cream. It’s delicious, but it’s not feasible for us to make.”

So what’s next after the debut of Birthday Cake?

Palchak said Truffino Chocolat Noir, a cookie cake ice cream with dark chocolate and hazelnut is planned to hit at the end of September or early October.

And whatever the next new flavor winds up being, Palchak said the Creamery’s loyal following has no problem giving him feedback.

“I’ve said this for 20 years — Penn Staters believe with each ice cream cone they get a share of the company and they’re not shy about letting me know how we’re doing!”

Terry Grove, a member of the Penn State Creamery Operations Team, added cookie freckles to the fruit feeder during the first production day for the Creamery's new, 150th anniversary flavor, Birthday Cake. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated September 04, 2020