It’s hard to mess with ice cream perfection. But the experts at Babcock are dabbling with a new challenge: organic ice cream.
The new line can be found exclusively at Rennie’s Dairy Bar, the only organic ice cream shop on campus. Located on the first floor of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery on North Orchard Street, Rennie’s takes its name from old-time Rennebohm drugstores.
The bar is starting small, serving just three flavors of Babcock organic ice cream: vanilla, chocolate and mixed berry. There’s also a vegan-friendly sorbet made by Talenti.
The sweet shop is flying a bit under the radar at the moment, as it had its grand opening on June 15 after the students had gone home for summer break.
So far, the response from those who have sampled the new ice cream “has been pretty positive. We’ve been well-received,” said Julia Madsen, who manages Rennie’s and Prairie Fire and the Daily Scoop shop at Union South.
Developing the new ice cream began nearly two years ago, when Molly Jahn, the former dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, asked Babcock Dairy Plant manager Bill Klein if he could create a new organic line. She was working with consultants who were planning the WID and they wanted to extend the green initiative of the building by providing local, organic ice cream.
“We’re for instruction, learning, experimenting,” Klein said of Babcock, which began operations in 1951. “And since we can, we do, and we turn it into a learning experience.”
Babcock’s organic formula does not stray much from its original recipe. The one major change is using egg yolk as the stabilizer instead of the usual gelatin used in their standard flavors.
“It’s easy to get organic and it imparts a custard flavor,” Klein said.
The recipe tweak was recommended by Organic Valley, which provides basic ingredients for the organic line: butter, nonfat dry milk powder and eggs.
The modest number of flavors available makes one decision relatively easy; the hard part is picking the mix-ins. Toppings at Rennie’s range from organic chocolate sauce to coconut to jelly beans. Certain organic toppings, such as cookies and pretzels, are provided by Newman’s Own, a company that donates all profits to charity. A regular one-scoop cone runs $3.32, while a one-topping sundae runs $4.69, with extra toppings costing 95 cents each. Customers can also request an organic cone for an extra 40 cents.
“To make fancy flavors, it’s not practical for organic because you have to find all those ingredients as organic. I suggested we make a limited amount of flavors,” Klein said. “We don’t have a lot of storage space, so we wanted to start small and let them create the flavors in the store.”
In addition to carrying the special ice cream, Rennie’s has another distinction. It’s the first time since the chain was bought out by Walgreens in the 1980s that the Rennebohm Foundation has allowed anyone to use its name.
Rennie’s pays tribute to the past in its décor. It’s a modernized archetype of soda counters historically found in drugstores, and in addition to ice cream, it also sells soda fountain favorites like Italian sodas and floats.
Babcock made its second batch of organic ice cream the week of June 19. With only one customer, an experimental line and limited storage space, they don’t anticipate making more than three or four batches a year.
The main concern regarding the organic treat is cost.
“The formulation hasn’t changed since 1951, so alumni, when they come back, (recognize) it’s the same product. The organic line doesn’t have that history behind it and I think that history has some value to it.
“Is it phenomenal enough to spend extra on it? That’s what I don’t know. I hope it does, I hope it works for Rennie’s because it’d be a neat product line to have,” Klein said.
Babcock has no plans to expand the organic line and sell it themselves. In addition to Rennie’s, the dairy plant sells and distributes its ice cream to all dorms on campus, the Memorial Union, Union South, the athletic department, University Hospital and their own store on Linden Drive. Retail outlets such as Metcalfe’s Sentry on University Avenue carry Babcock but are required to buy it at retail price and provide their own transportation.
“If (the organic line) takes off and does well, we wouldn’t (sell the line) unless Rennie’s gives us the OK. I would prefer to let them have that little niche,” Klein said.