Dairy, berry producers scream for ice cream

Doug Wells, foreground, and Jeff Heartley, of Umpqua Dairy, get ready to taste vanilla ice cream samples during a class Tuesday at the Oregon State University Food Innovation Center.

Jeff Heartley and Doug Wells took their time Tuesday at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, tasting nine different vanilla ice cream samples and evaluating each based on criteria including appearance, flavor and texture.

It’s a tough job, but hey, somebody has got to do it.

“The texture on this one is nice and creamy,” remarked Wells, who along with Heartley works in ice cream production at Umpqua Dairy Products in Roseburg, Ore. “The first one I tried was a little icy.”

Wells is just six months into the job at Umpqua Dairy, and was one of 63 participants who registered for the first Ice Cream Science, Technology and Supply course hosted by OSU at the Food Innovation Center Nov. 6-7.

Sarah Masoni, product and process development director at the Food Innovation Center, said she hopes the program will lead to more high-quality ice cream made in Oregon and across the Pacific Northwest, which in turn would provide more opportunities for local dairy farmers and berry growers to sell their ingredients to market.

“Whenever we can create value-added food products, that means we’re bolstering the economy and creating jobs,” Masoni said.

In fact, the class was funded by a $17,775 grant awarded by the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association to the OSU Agricultural Research Foundation in 2017. Association Director Tami Kerr said the proposal for an ice cream lab and educational workshop was outside the box, though the board agreed it was something that would ultimately benefit producers.

“If processors can produce new and improved ice cream, ultimately that should help with sales, consumption and milk prices,” Kerr said.

Oregon has about 210 dairy producers statewide. Milk was the fourth-most valuable agricultural commodity in 2017, at $469.3 million.

The milk needed to make ice cream is one thing. New flavors are another potential agricultural market, and that is where Oregon berry growers are seeking to bolster sales of their own.

Darcy Kochis, marketing director for the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission, said the OSU class was a chance to build connections between farmers and producers looking to buy more local fruit, or add flavors.

“This is a great opportunity to hit a market that is already buying some fruit, but would maybe do some more,” Kochis said. “If we’re spreading the word, hopefully there will be a buzz around Oregon blackberries and raspberries, and they’ll catch on to that.”

Oregon is the top producer of frozen blackberries, black raspberries and boysenberries in the country. The commission represents approximately 300 growers, located predominately in the Willamette Valley.

Kochis said they are especially excited about Columbia Star, a new thornless blackberry variety introduced in 2014.

“The fruit looks beautiful,” Kochis said. “A lot of people are growing it.”

Day one of the two-day workshop was led by Bruce Tharp, of Tharp’s Food Technology, an international training and technical consulting business based in Pennsylvania that specializes in the ice cream industry. Tharp discussed the basic science and principles of making ice cream, such as how to reduce air bubbles and ice crystals in the final product to enhance smoothness and quality.

“Frozen desserts are the only food intended to be consumed frozen.” Tharp said. “That makes it complicated.”

After a short series of lectures, Tharp had the group evaluate nine vanilla ice cream samples in a blind taste test, with containers covered by tinfoil to conceal the brand. In quality assurance, he said the key to ice cream is consistency.

“If we follow all the rules that we’ve been talking about, we get happy consumers,” he said.

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