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Ice Cream 101: How Babcock Dairy ice cream is made on the UW–Madison campus

A man climbs a ladder up to silver holding tanks in the Babcock Dairy Plant.

Babcock ice cream is a treasured part of UW–Madison culture — Madisonians order tens of thousands of ice cream cones with Babcock ice cream each year. But have you ever wondered how the delicious dessert is made?

At Babcock Dairy, everything starts with the milk. All of our milk comes from Wisconsin cows, including the cows who live on the same street as our Dairy Plant. It’s important to us that we source sustainable, locally-made ingredients for our ice cream. What better way to shop locally than getting your milk from 0.2 miles away?

Once milk arrives at our facility, our staff creates our classic ice cream mix. The recipe for our ice cream mix hasn’t changed since 1951, ensuring the same nostalgic Babcock taste for more than 70 years. Using a powder blender, our ice cream makers blend the dry and liquid ingredients for the ice cream mix before heating the mixture to 110° F. They agitate the mixture for 15 minutes before creating a high pressure environment to homogenize, or emulsify, the mixture. 

Next, our ice cream makers pasteurize the ice cream mix by heating it to at least 180° F and holding this temperature for a minimum of 15 seconds before cooling it to less than 40° F. Pasteurization is designed to kill 100% of pathogens and over 90% of total bacteria in the mix.

After pasteurization, the mix is stored to hydrate for at least 16 hours. We then add flavor or color to the mixture before sending the mix through a continuous freezer. Ice crystals form and are cut by rotating blades. We inject filtered air into the mixture to produce an overrun of 80%. Overrun is what makes ice cream light and creamy, rather than dense and icy. During this process, one gallon of our ice cream mix turns into 1.8 gallons of ice cream.

Once we have the perfect ice cream texture, we add inclusions, variegates and swirls into the ice cream before sending it into tubs in the deep freezer. Our plant deep freezer is set to -20° F and can have a windchill of -40° F! Once the ice cream is hardened, it’s ready to eat.

Three students add ice cream to three-gallon tubs in the Babcock Dairy Plant.

The ice cream is transferred from the plant’s deep freezer straight to the Dairy Store’s cooler to thaw slightly before it can be scooped and served. Then, the UW–Madison campus can enjoy our delicious ice cream!

A cone of Orange Custard Chocolate Chip ice cream is handed over the counter at the Babcock Dairy Store.