Penn State creamery still a staple in Happy Valley at 150
July 17, 2015 12:00 AM
Penn State University Archives
Students taking the ice cream short course at then-Pennsylvania State College in 1894 work to separate cream at the dairy barns.
Nick Grove displaying the first five-gallon barrel of Penn State Creamery's new anniversary flavor, Birthday Cake, to come off the production line.
By Audrey Snyder / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two overhead fans work to keep the ceiling-high rows of three-gallon ice cream tubs, crates of sherbet and boxes of cookie sandwiches frozen to perfection.
It’s minus 35 degrees inside the Penn State Berkey Creamery’s hardener room, where workers move back and forth in 15-minute shifts, wearing heavy winter coats and stepping in and out of a soapy puddle of disinfectant, making these prized possessions ready for consumption.
During a normal Penn State football weekend, 1,500 three-gallon tubs will be consumed, a testament to the quality of the product and the longstanding legacy of the Creamery. With five straight home games this season, it will be a production task that Bob Rosenberry, lead dairy products processor, and Terry Grove, ice cream dairy products processor, are prepared to take on.
On this July day, the workers at the largest university creamery in the nation have a chance to breathe and celebrate a recipe for success. The workers at the front counter can put down their scoopers and momentarily rest their tired forearms. The Creamery is celebrating 150 years of dairy service this year, and its products are as popular as ever.
Lines stretch down the street and wrap around the block on football weekends. Even during a quiet State College summer it’s common to see the line move out the door.
The 3,700-square-foot retail store — housed in the Rodney A. Erickson Food Sciences Building on the east end of campus, the Creamery’s home since 2006 — employs more than 20 full-time workers and 100 students. Before the expansion to its current home, the Creamery was housed in a wing of Borland Laboratory after 1932.
Workers such as Susan Watson, a Creamery senior salesroom attendant and 27-year employee, have shared many laughs and star-struck moments from behind the counter. From cleaning the stubborn soft-serve machines, complete with the occasional explosion of product shooting to the ceiling, to former President Bill Clinton’s request to mix Peachy Paterno and Cherry Quist — a Creamery no-no. While Mr. Clinton remains the only person who successfully mixed flavors, Mrs. Watson said there’s no shortage of people who ask to do so.
Even Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, was given separate cups of coffee break and vanilla — the Creamery’s most popular flavor — rather than her requested mixed flavor.
“It’s mainly because of the lines,” Mrs. Watson said of the no-mixing policy. “Truly, if somebody asks, I’d say it’s because of tradition.”
The Creamery sells 750,000 bowls and cones annually, plus 200 milkshakes per day. It also manufactures 47 different spreads and cheeses, 22 different milk and yogurt products and six different iced tea and lemonade drinks. About 21,000 pounds of cheddar are packed, stored and sorted by dates in the on-site cheese room.
Creamery milk, juice and ice cream products also are used in the Penn State dining halls, and the satellite campuses are beginning to use the dairy products, too. Other Pennsylvania ice cream shop owners drive to State College to purchase three-gallon tubs to sell in their own stores, Mr. Rosenberry said.
“There are like 10 of us in the production area back there, and we’re providing enough juice, milk and dairy products for 43,000 students that go to school here,” Mr. Grove said.
Using the products, specifically the ice cream, in the dining halls will continue to lessen some of the pressure on the sales room and dairy plant in the Food Sciences Building. Mr. Palchak called it a stop-gap measure until another expansion is needed.
“Our future looks good, and I’m sure that there will come a time when we do have to move [again], but I don’t see that in the foreseeable future,” Mr. Palchak said.
Until that time, Mrs. Watson will stand behind the counter, smile and continue to do what she and so many others have done throughout the Creamery’s 150-year history.
“I tell all the students the first person in front of you is the most important,” Mrs. Watson said. “Everybody else, when they get to stand in front of you then they’ll be the most important person. Other than that, don’t even look at the line.”
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