By James Kerr
There isn’t a food that I attach more sentimentality to than ice cream. I have treasured childhood memories of “going for ice cream.” I fondly remember every part of these excursions — piling into a car headed for Empire Cheese or Reid’s Dairy, feeling the ice cream’s sugary run-off dripping down my six-year old hand, and the gleeful race against the sun’s heat as I struggled to lick my dessert before it melted. Growing up on a local dairy farm, I always took pride in knowing that our milk that we sent to Reid’s Dairy helped to create this wonderful, magical, summer treat.
The warm weather always reminds me of these special trips. I’m sure that I am not alone in my sentimentality about the summer sun versus ice cream race, especially in this area which is home to two excellent ice cream manufacturers, Kawartha Dairy and Reid’s Dairy.
Vicki McMillan is the Retail Manager at Empire Cheese in Campbellford. She says that Empire Cheese was built in 1953, and has most likely been serving ice cream since it opened. Empire Cheese serves both local brands, one being Kawartha Dairy’s hand-scooped hard ice cream, and the other, Reid’s Dairy’s soft ice cream. McMillan says that Empire Cheese attracts “Lots of regulars. Families. A lot of cottagers.”
It’s obvious that vacationing cottagers like ice cream on hot days, but there seems to be a local connection to this sweet treat as well. If you ask Joy Lott, Store Manager at Ivanhoe Cheese in Madoc, she’ll tell you that “People come out more on hot days. But I think they come out here because this is part of their childhood. Ice cream is part of their memory.”
According to Lott, Ivanhoe Cheese has been serving Hastings County for “years and years.” In fact, the local company has been producing cheese for more than 150 years.
Then go ask Tom Legere, Marketing Manager at Kawartha Dairy in Bobcaygeon, a company that serves customers far and wide right across Ontario and beyond, including Hastings County. He sums it up perfectly: “People love ice cream,” he says. “It’s tradition-based, it’s fun-based, its’ something that the whole family can do. … It’s timeless.”
Kawartha Dairy too has an established area legacy. Legere said that, “We’ve been around 83 years now.” Legere describes the company as “multi-generational.” The same is true of their customers; families come in, kids, parents and grandparents. When the kids grow up, they continue the tradition by visiting the dairy with their own children.
It is certainly true in my case. Ice cream runs in my blood. My grandfather loved ice cream probably too much (not that I would have made that judgement when I was less than four feet tall). When he’d pick me up for a visit, the first thing we’d do was to go for ice cream, and since the Empire Cheese Factory was conveniently located between his house and my parent’s, we’d go there again on the way back too.
As a child, I thought Grandpa Kerr was spoiling me kindly, that his love for me must truly be grand to let me get away with ice cream twice in one day. As an adult I realize now that he just really liked ice cream.
Probably 80% of our customers are repeat,” says Lott at Ivanhoe. “Whether they’re local or seasonal coming down for cottage country. … People who are now grandparents come and say, “I remember coming here with my grandparents.”
In my personal experience, the warm tradition of this cold treat does seem to pass from generation to generation. I can’t look at Tiger Tail without thinking of my Grandpa Kerr. My Dad was bit by the ice cream bug too, and we have shared many a bowl out on the front porch on a lazy summer evening. Apparently, once you catch the ice cream bug, it stays with you for life.
Bill Hanna, VP of Sales at Reid’s Dairy, Belleville, has been employed at the firm for over 40 years now. He says that, “I see people in the store that I delivered to their house [in the old days].
From far and wide, going for ice cream is a grand tradition. The skin on both of my arms gets hot remembering those sun burns from summer car trips. There was always, somehow, ice cream involved. Of course, every trip to the Hoard’s Station Sales Barn in the old beat-up farm trick meant stopping at Empire Cheese for ice cream. I think there was some pretense of picking up cheese too, but what mattered most to me was the ice cream.
As McMillan at Empire Cheese puts it, a “hot summer day, ice cream and a bag of fresh curd. What could go wrong?”
And then, every trip through Belleville meant stopping at Reid’s Dairy. There was no choice in the matter. I’d run inside, hit the button on the big mechanical cow, and listen to it moo as I ran to the ice cream display to hastily pick my choice of ice cream before my sister could get hers.
I always assumed my parent’s generosity in taking us, but as I am now a parent myself, I wonder.
When it is hot outside, and as Hanna at Reid’s Dairy puts it, “What do you do with the kids?” Well, what you do is to get everyone to pile into the car and head out looking for ice cream. It’s an outing that the entire family can enjoy.
Everyone has their favourite flavours:
Moose Tracks is a local sensation. It is the biggest seller at both Kawartha Dairy and Reid’s Dairy. According to Lott, the most popular flavours at Ivanhoe Cheese are Moose Tracks and Salted Caramel Truffle. McMillan states that at Empire Cheese, the hottest ice creams are “Pralines and Cream … Butter Pecan … and maybe most of all Moose Tracks.” Kawartha Dairy’s Legere points out that the Chocolate and Peanut-butter flavour “is the original salty-sweet combination.”
“People are still pretty traditional,” Lott says. “Your older customers stick to your older flavours. But then, our young kids love Maple Walnut.”
Legere suggests that a variety of flavours to choose from is important for customers: “People like variety and new things … its part of the fun of ice cream.”
At Reid’s Dairy, according to Bill Hanna, “the old staples are still there. The Maple Walnut, the Chocolate, the Strawberry. … But, with the kids flavours, they’re all about something different.”
Hanna even gave me a sneak peak of Reid’s Dairy’s newest flavours: Zombie Crunch, Donut Grow Up, French Connection, Blondie, and Jungle Streaker. “Colour has a big thing to do with the kids,” he tells me. I can only imagine the colours involved in a Zombie Crunch.
With all these different flavours to choose from, there is something for everyone. Every person that I interviewed had a personal favourite. As Hanna said, while reflecting on his love of Sea-Salt Caramel, “It’s addictive, I tell ya!”
If you too have the ice cream bug, you can indulge in this summer treat all season long and potentially beyond. At Empire Cheese ice cream season runs from the May long weekend through to Thanksgiving. For the manufacturers, however, making ice cream is a year-round event.
Legere says that at Kawartha Dairy, “A lot is sold in retail stores. More in the summer, but an awful lot in the off-season. … People do come in for cones all year round.”
At Ivanhoe it seems that they’ve made ice cream a constant thing as well. “Ice cream season does not end,” said Lott, even though Ivanhoe is just an outlet for the stuff. “One year we tried to take out the ice cream and someone phoned the head office and complained. We never did that again!”
With ice cream on the “brain-freeze,” my family and I decided to go out and get some while the getting’s good. Legere of Kawartha Dairy warned us that the civic holiday weekend is a busy one, so we decided to start early, with the intention to visit often.
My daughter Boudica (or “Boo” as we call her) is now two-and a half years old. One of the words she knows, and says remarkably well compared with the rest of her vocabulary is “ice cream.” There is no surer way to make her happy and quiet (which to say, make us as parents happy) than to propose dessert at the end of the meal. We had her first ice cream outing the other day.
It was a moderately-warm weekday when my wife, toddler, newborn and I made the trek to Reid’s Dairy for ice cream cones. Although it was early in the season — and a weekday at supper time — the parlour was busy, and buzzing with excited (and hungry) customers.
Some of us had more ice cream than others. Boudica, all of 2.5 and wanted more scoops than that, started off with a highly-compromised, much-negotiated, single scoop of vanilla. At first it seemed to be a big success. She half ate it, half wore-it, and sometimes even sang to it, but she seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.
My wife made the mistake of putting down her half-eaten ice cream cone within toddler reach. Boudica proudly announced: “I have Mommy’s ice cream!” My wife and I made the mistake of laughing — a parenting fail — and to make a long story short, my wife’s ice cream became toddler food.
Somewhere under those layers of ice cream Boudica was wearing a big smile. She sure was happy … until the tummy ache set in. But that’s part of the ice cream experience when you’re a kid.
“Celebrations, family — that is the best part about ice cream for me,” says Legere. “There isn’t much of a downside to ice cream for me.”
I made sure Boo got to press the big button and watch the cow moo before we left Reid’s Dairy. The first time we go out for ice cream as a family, the four of us, and immediately we have happy memories.
McMillan who has been with Empire Cheese for 14 years, and on everybody’s favourite topic, ice cream she notes, “It just keeps getting busier. Ice cream is a huge draw. Having local ice cream is even better.”
Ice cream means tradition, summer, fun, memories and all generations from grandparents to kids, but for the people supplying it, it can mean all that and more.
What does ice cream mean to Lott, at Ivanhoe? “A strong right arm,” she says. “Because we’re scooping all the time!”
And that’s the scoop on ice cream.
Should you find yourself touring Hastings County and are unsure where to find the local ice cream bar and you’re not shy — just ask someone on the street. Most likely they’ll know. And if it’s Marmora you’re exploring, pay a visit to one of the newest purveyors of Kawartha Dairy; The Ice Cream Shoppe on Highway 7 right next to the Ultramar gas station. You might want to take that treat a few blocks away to enjoy it alongside the beautiful river running through Marmora’s Memorial Park. Now how’s that for perfect placement?