By Jessica Lovell
As the weather turns cold, people’s food cravings tend to heat up – steaming stews, mugs of hot cocoa and the like. Few people are thinking about ice cream.
But the people who are thinking most seriously about it make their way to Guelph in December.
That’s because each year in December, the University of Guelph runs its Ice Cream Technology Course – the longest running course in the university’s history.
“It’s always the first week of December,” says food sciences professor Doug Goff. “It’s usually a pretty good time for people in the ice cream industry.”
Goff has been teaching the course for about 25 years, just a fraction of the nearly 100 years the course has been at the school. It’s a job he feels lucky to have scored.
“There’s no other course like it in Canada,” says Goff, who is also co-author of Ice Cream, the textbook. In fact, there are few like it in the world. Goff teaches one every two years in
Ireland and every other year in Australia, and there is a rival course he knows of at Penn State University, but Guelph’s is older.
It began in 1914, long before the U of G became a university. It was one of the Dairy School’s offerings at the Ontario Agricultural College. It started around the time that the commercial sale of ice cream was just beginning to take off.
The course is for people in the ice cream industry, explains Goff. Students include everyone from people who work for large-scale processors like Breyers to small business retailers to industry suppliers.
“We always get between 25 and 40 students every year,” says Goff, adding that although most are involved in the industry already, he doesn’t assume they come in with experience.
“We do start from scratch, but everybody in the course has some level of knowledge in order to decide to take it,” he says.
This year’s crop of students have come from California, Texas, British Columbia, Singapore, Thailand and Aruba.
“I’m really hoping they need some consulting help and invite me to come,” Goff laughs.
The course is kind of a crash course. It runs full days for one week and covers processing, mix-making, ice cream freezing, mix ingredients, flavourings, quality, food safety and even a section on marketing trends, says Goff.
“And we of course go in the pilot plant and we make ice cream,” he says. “It’s a long and tiring and hard week, but it’s certainly one of my favourite weeks of the year.”
Part of what makes it great, Goff says, is meeting people from all over the world who are involved in the industry. They learn from him, but he also learns from them.
For example, a student in this year’s course from Napa, California, has experimented with wine-based flavours. “It’s unique,” says Goff, explaining that the course is a chance for people in the industry to share these kinds of new ideas.
Over the years, Goff has seen a lot of different flavours, from hot and spicy Mexican chocolate to the dandelion flavour produced by Mapleton’s Organic.
The worst flavour he’s ever had was made with durian fruit, an Asian fruit known for its distinctive odour. “It was awful in my opinion,” says Goff.
He doesn’t necessarily have a favourite flavour. Instead, when he goes out for ice cream, he tries to look for something he’s never tried before – a task that is probably trickier for the prof than for most.
“I’ve seen everything from lobster to beer,” he says. “People try so many different things. It doesn’t have to stick to that kind of sweet confection. The sky’s the limit, but somebody has to buy it.”
For the course, Goff sticks to vanilla. “Vanilla is probably the most difficult flavour to make in the sense that all the ingredients have to taste great, because they’re not really covered up by anything else,” he says.
But whatever the flavour, for people thinking about going into the business of making ice cream, the U of G course has the basics to get them started.
“If they are thinking about making their own ice cream, this is probably the best investment they’ll make,” says Goff.