Perspectives Online

Dairy store to feature N.C. State ice cream

Gary Cartwright holds a package of the Food Science Department's N.C. State ice creams, in the cup size just right for those small wooden spoons.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

Ice cream just brings people together," says Gary Cartwright, coordinator of pilot plants in the Department of Food Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Indeed, earlier this year in a rare show of legislative unity, the North Carolina General Assembly unanimously approved an exemption to the state's Umstead Act for the department's Dairy and Process Applications Laboratory.

What the Umstead Act does is forbid state agencies from competing with the private sector. What the Dairy and Process Applications Laboratory does, among other things, is make ice cream. With an exemption to the Umstead Act, the laboratory, which may be better known as the Creamery or Dairy Plant, can sell dairy products (read that as ice cream) to the public.

As pilot plant coordinator, Cartwright oversees operation of the Dairy and Process Applications Lab, as well as pilot plants that process meat, seafood and fruits and vegetables. All the pilot plants are in the Department of Food Science.

Of the various pilot plants (warning, pun approaching), the Dairy and Process Applications Laboratory is the cash cow. Cartwright says the laboratory is self-sufficient. No tax dollars go toward its operation, and the revenue it generates is used to improve the overall capabilities of the entire pilot plant operation.

Approval of the Umstead Act exemption is what Cartwright calls a "critical milestone" toward a laboratory expansion designed to enhance teaching, research and extension activities as well as promote agriculture and the North Carolina dairy industry.

Eventually, says Cartwright, a dairy store that sells ice cream and other dairy products to the public will be established. The laboratory is located on the ground floor of Schaub Hall, and Cartwright says an extension to Schaub Hall will probably be built to house the store. But all that's in the planning stage now, and Cartwright doesn't expect the store to become a reality for several years.

Laboratory operations are to be modified slowly, Cartwright adds. "We're taking this slowly, very methodically," he says. "We want to make sure we represent the dairy industry responsibly."

Limited ice cream sales to the public will probably begin later this year, Cartwright says. Ice cream will be sold out of the laboratory, probably one or two afternoons per week.

It's likely sales will be brisk. The Umstead Act notwithstanding, N.C. State ice cream already has a following. That may be because of all the flavorings or the pure cane sugar, fresh milk and cream that goes into N.C. State ice cream.

Or it may be because the Food Science Club sells it each year at its booth at the North Carolina State Fair.

"We've always had a high demand for our products," Cartwright says. "We get inundated (with requests for ice cream) after the state fair."

While a dairy store is a few years away and limited ice cream sales perhaps a few months away, part of the expanded lab program is already in place. The lab has developed a new line of premium ice cream called Chancellor's Choice. Chancellor's Choice is particularly rich. It has a butterfat content of 14 percent, where the standard ice cream butterfat content is 11 percent.

As the name implies, Chancellor's Choice flavors are determined by N.C. State University's chancellor. For now, there's only one Chancellor's Choice flavor. It's a vanilla-raspberry swirl, which resulted from an effort to create a red and white ice cream. Over time, Cartwright says other flavors will be added.

And while the chancellor will have the final say in determining which flavors get the Chancellor's Choice label, students will likely be involved in the process as well.

"We're going to have naming contests," Cartwright adds. "We're going to have fun with this."

No doubt. It is ice cream, after all.

- Dave Caldwell