The University of North Texas is making its own ice cream these days, part of a program to convert food production completely to scratch cooking and away from processed food, says Peter Balabuch, associate director of residential dining services.
"When we looked at residential dining and the meal plan, we wanted to deliver more value," he says. "We got a good handle on hot food production and decided to move on to tackle ice cream."
The biggest investment was the batch freezer, the largest such unit available commercially that was sourced from Florida-based vendor Emery Thompson. It is capable of producing 44 quarts of ice cream in just over ten minutes.
“We figured that we could make a better ice cream than what we were buying from distributors,” Balabuch says. “What we are producing now is a super-premium ice cream made from all-natural ingredients. It is fresh and doesn’t have any preservatives. We also think it is richer and creamier than the pre-packaged varieties.”
Balabuch and Sous Chef Jake Gravley both attended Ice Cream University in Florida to learn the ropes of making the sweet treat. During the two-day program the duo created about a dozen batches of ice cream, including a ricotta and fig flavored ice cream.
Beginning in February, Gravely started offering his creations alongside of the name brand ice cream the school had served for years. By March, he had phased out the name brand ice cream and was offering four or five of his homemade ice cream flavors to hungry students.
This fall will be the first full semester that dining services will exclusively offer the UNT-made ice cream during dinner and late-night services at Kerr Hall, the university’s largest dining hall, where over 50 gallons—some 1,600 4-oz. servings—can go in a single night. The ice cream also is popular at special events handled by UNT’s catering department.
Prepackaged containers of the ice cream currently are being offered as “Scrappy’s Ice Cream” at the Corner Store, a retail location in the University Union. Balabuch says he has been surprised by the tremendous feedback he’s received from students, faculty and staff.
“Many of the people I’ve talked to say they favor this ice cream over the name brand ice cream we were serving before,” says Balabuch. “For us it was all about adding more value to the meal plan.”
Dining services plans to develop 20 to 25 flavors to offer in rotation at the Corner Store, and possibly other retail locations on campus. Gravely says he always offers the old standbys of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but also tries to offer a specialty flavor in the dining hall each night.
So far, he has tried a variety of specialty flavors, including chocolate covered avocado, avocado lime, candied ginger and apple pie ice cream. Some unusual formulations are tied to specific menus, such as the "kulfi" to accompany an Indian menu (it has a cardamom flavor, Balabuch says) and pineapple cilantro as part of a Puerto Rican menu.
“The most popular flavor we offer is cookies and cream," Gravely says. "We contacted different vendors about ingredients for the ice cream, but in the end we decided we could do it better ourselves, so we make all the inclusions and add-ins."
Plans call for some 200 gallons of lime margarita ice cream to be served to returning students on August 25 as a sort of welcome back, Balabuch says.
This fall Gravely plans to develop sherbet, sorbet and sorbetto options. Currently, a lemon Italian ice is offered at the Corner Store, which Gravely says is a particularly refreshing option to help survive the summer heat. He also noted that the Italian ice has fewer calories, since it doesn’t have any cream. Both Gravely and Balabuch admit that there is nothing diet about ice cream, but say indulging in their product is fine in moderation.