University of Maryland Extension

How Much Do You Know About Ice Cream?

As we say goodbye to the national dairy month of June and welcome the national ice cream month of July, it only seems fitting to sit back and enjoy a bowl of ice cream. Ice cream is one of the most enjoyed deserts in my house—and nationwide, as production of ice cream and other frozen dairy products totals about 1.5 billion gallons annually! In fact, the average American eats about 48 pints of ice cream per year. About nine percent of the milk produced by U.S. dairy farmers is used to make ice cream.

People have made and consumed frozen treats for thousands of years, but the first known frozen treat recipe utilizing milk was brought to Italy from the Far East by Marco Polo. Then called “cream ice,” it was regularly eaten by the royalty in England and France in the mid-1500s. Ice cream wasn’t available to the general public until about 1660 where it was first served from a café in Paris. However, since refrigeration was difficult, ice cream remained a rare treat for most until the late 19th century. In 1851, Baltimore’s own Jacob Fussell, a milk dealer, was the first to invest in the large scale manufacture of ice cream.

There are many types of frozen deserts made with dairy, but the USDA has strict standards about what types of products can be labeled as “ice cream.” Ice cream must contain at least 10 percent milk fat and a minimum of six percent non-fat milk solids, and it must weigh at least 4.5 pounds per gallon. Frozen yogurt (1/2 to 6% milk fat), sherbert (1-2% milk fat), and sorbet (made without dairy) aren’t technically ice creams at all.

Scientifically speaking, ice cream is a colloid, or a mixture where one substance is microscopically dispersed throughout another substance. In the case of ice cream, fat molecules are suspended in a mixture of water, sugar, and ice. To form ice cream, the mixture must be whipped and frozen at the same time. This whipping also introduces air into the mixture, which allows the ice cream to acquire its creamy, smooth texture rather than freezing into a block of ice. If you’ve made ice cream at home, you’ll know that the end process of this mixing and freezing is “soft serve” ice cream. To become scoopable, the ice cream must then be frozen at a very low temperature to ensure it hardens without forming ice crystals.

If you love ice cream and want to sample what Maryland’s local creameries have to offer, be sure to check out Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail before September 9. The trail includes farms stretching from Ocean City to Washington County. Of the eight farms on the trail, Harford County boasts two—Broom’s Bloom in Bel Air and Keyes Creamery in Aberdeen which just opened its doors last month. I look forward to visiting at least a few of the creameries on the trail this summer! (To learn more about the Ice Cream Trail, visit    

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