Time to beat the heat and celebrate July as National Ice Cream Month

The ice cream industry is a larger component to American farms than you may suspect.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. He recognized ice cream as a fun and nutritious food that is enjoyed by 90 percent of the nation’s population. In the proclamation, President Reagan called for all people of the United States to observe these events with “appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

The International Ice Cream Association (IICA) encourages retailers and consumers to celebrate July as National Ice Cream Month. In 2014, National Ice Cream Day will be Sunday, July 20.

The U.S. ice cream industry generated total revenues of $10 billion in 2010, with take-home ice cream sales representing the largest section of the market, generating revenues of $6.8 billion or 67.7 percent of the market’s overall value (source: MarketLine, an Informa business).

About nine percent of all the milk produced by U.S. dairy farmers is used to produce ice cream, contributing significantly to the economic wellbeing of the nation’s dairy industry.

How ice cream is made

Everybody has a favorite flavor or brand of ice cream, and the debate over whose ice cream is the best rages on each year. While each manufacturer develops its own special recipes, ice cream production basics are basically the same everywhere.

The most important ice cream ingredients come from milk. The dairy ingredients are crucial in determining the characteristics of the final frozen product. Federal regulations state that ice cream must have at least 10 percent milk fat, the single most critical ingredient. The use of varying percentages of milk fat affects the palatability, smoothness, color, texture and food value of the finished product. Gourmet or super premium ice creams contain at least 12 percent milk fat, usually more.

Ice cream contains non-fat solids (the non-fat, protein part of the milk), which contribute nutritional value (protein, calcium, minerals and vitamins). Non-fat dry milk, skim milk and whole milk are the usual sources of non-fat solids.

The sweeteners used in ice cream vary from cane or beet sugar to corn sweeteners or honey. Stabilizers, such as plant derivatives, are commonly used in small amounts to prevent the formation of large ice crystals and to make a smoother ice cream. Emulsifiers, such as lecithin and mono and diglycerides, are also used in small amounts. They provide uniform whipping qualities to the ice cream during freezing, as well as a smoother and drier body and texture in the frozen form.

These basic ingredients are agitated and blended in a mixing tank. The mixture is then pumped into a pasteurizer, where it is heated and held at a predetermined temperature. The hot mixture is then “shot” through a homogenizer, where pressure of 2,000 to 2,500 pounds per square inch breaks the milk fat down into smaller particles, allowing the mixture to stay smooth and creamy. The mix is then quick-cooled to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and frozen via the “continuous freezer” method (the “batch freezer” method) that uses a steady flow of mix that freezes a set quantity of ice cream one batch at a time.

During freezing, the mix is aerated by “dashers,” revolving blades in the freezer. The small air cells that are incorporated by this whipping action prevent ice cream from becoming a solid mass of frozen ingredients. The amount of aeration is called “overrun,” and is limited by the federal standard that requires the finished product must not weigh less than 4.5 pounds per gallon.

The next step is the addition of bulky flavorings, such as fruits, nuts and chocolate chips. The ingredients are either “dropped” or “shot” into the semi-solid ice cream after it leaves the freezer.

After the flavoring additions are completed, the ice cream can be packaged in a variety of containers, cups or molds. It is moved quickly to a “hardening room,” where sub-zero temperatures freeze the product to its final state for storage and distribution.

Some of the favorite ice-cream places around the state of Michigan include:

Moo-ville of Nashville, MI

Dairy Store of MSU in East Lansing, MI

Dairy Queen in local town/cities

Michigan State University Extension encourages you to celebrate National Ice Cream Month and National Ice Cream Day by supporting dairy farmers and treating yourself and your family to your favorite ice cream.

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