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On summer days in the Carolinas, long lines at local ice cream shops are the norm — and for good reason. Several creameries make their own, a few using milk from cows on the property. Customers don’t seem to mind the wait for creative flavors, extra-rich texture and friendly service. From modern digs in a busy Triangle city to a rural outpost in the center of a dairy farm, these Carolina creameries satisfy hungry visitors.

Happy Cow Creamery, Pelzer, S.C.

Green pastures border the gravel road leading into Happy Cow Creamery. Black-and-white Holsteins graze. The store sits in the center of the farm, surrounded by the milking parlor, bottling plant and shipping-and-receiving warehouse. After a successful run in the grocery store business and a not-so-successful attempt at veal production, farmer Tom Trantham purchased this property in 1978. About 10 years later, he developed an innovative grazing program called 12 Aprils that farmers and scholars admire internationally for its quality milk production and land stewardship. Feeding the cows lush grass year round produces wholesome dairy products that Trantham sells out of his farm store, complete with a drive-through window. The ice cream occupies the back freezer to the right. White, nondescript tubs conceal pints and half-gallons of luscious ice cream made with 18 percent butterfat. Single serving containers provide immediate gratification. The cashier keeps plastic spoons at the ready.

Calabash Creamery, Calabash, N.C.

The word Calabash is synonymous with fried seafood. The small community on the southern North Carolina coast has served platters of crispy fish, oysters and shrimp for decades. That seafood draw encouraged Kristi and Greg and Hansen to open Calabash Creamery here in 2003. They grew up around homemade ice cream, he on the Jersey Shore and she among large farms in Pennsylvania. They knew if people came for seafood, they’d likely entertain the idea of homemade ice cream for dessert. Their ice cream is a cross between American ice cream and Italian gelato, with high butterfat content and little air pumped in. Summer favorites showcasing local fruit include strawberry, cantaloupe and Sunset Peach, named after neighboring Sunset Beach.

Sweet Molly’s Creamery, North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Running an ice cream shop in a vacation town like Myrtle Beach has its challenges and rewards. Unlike a business in a year-round town where regulars frequent weekly or even daily, customers come and go constantly. But many tourists visit every year, often frequenting the same restaurants and ice cream shops. Cindy and Chris Tobin have operated their ice cream store in the shops at Barefoot Landing for 13 years. Some customers come every night during their annual visits. The Tobins make high-quality ice cream using a gelato machine and incorporate premium ingredients, such as Madagascar vanilla, cocoa powder and real bananas (not banana flavoring). The shop is a frozen-table concept, where customers pick out their toppings and a staff member stirs them into the ice cream. Named after their corgi mix, Molly, the creamery even offers a treat for four-legged customers: a sundae with vanilla yogurt, peanut butter and a dog biscuit.

Howling Cow, N.C. State University, Raleigh, N.C.

Among the dormitories, lecture halls and sports facilities on campus at N.C. State University sits the Feldmeier Dairy Processing Lab. Here, on the ground floor of Schaub Hall, students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences learn the ins and outs of a production creamery by studying and working in one. The creamery’s most well-known product is its ice cream, which many people first encounter at the N.C. State Fair each October. Students scoop enough ice cream in those 11 days to result in one-quarter of Howling Cow’s annual ice cream sales. At other times, students, teachers and visitors purchase hand-dipped cups and cones, sundaes and milkshakes on campus at D.H. Library, Hunt Library and Talley Student Center. The college’s dean prefers Cherry Brick Road, while N.C. State’s chancellor enjoys Wolf Tracks, a Wolfpack twist on the commercially produced Moose Tracks.  

Homeland Creamery, Julian, N.C.

One afternoon, Paige Garland asked her father to pick up her son from elementary school. He agreed. After all, the school is just next door to their dairy farm. He happened to be working in the field closest to the school, so he swung by and picked up his grandson on the tractor. The first-grader thought he was the coolest kid in school. Moments like that are what Garland had in mind when she returned with her young family to the farm where she was raised. Homeland Creamery, owned by her parents and her aunt and uncle, produces about 7,000 gallons of milk a week. Milk from 200 Holstein and Jersey cows is vat pasteurized, a method where the milk is heated to a lower temperature for a longer period of time. Garland likens it to cooking in a Crock-Pot. Customers, including high-end restaurants and coffee shops, value the milk’s creamy consistency. In the summer, the creamery produces 1,000 gallons of ice cream a week. Favorite flavors include butter pecan and double dark chocolate, which customers purchase by the scoop from the on-farm store.

Sweet Cream Company, Columbia, S.C.

Situated on downtown Columbia’s Main Street, Sweet Cream Company has been offering up small batch, handcrafted goodness since 2012. Owners Jessica and Joe Kastner incorporate natural, locally sourced ingredients from area farms and dairies to create unique flavors like caramel popcorn, rhubarb lime jalapeno sorbet and Aunt Cathy’s zucchini bread. They also offer homemade dog treats, matching each purchase to benefit local animal rescue organizations. While you’re there, enjoy a Cup of Awesome — half coffee, half hot chocolate and full fantastic. They serve locally roasted Turtle Creek Coffee and even sell it in a 32-ounce growler for you to enjoy at home.

Maple View Farm, Hillsborough, N.C.

Inside a white two-story farmhouse in between Hillsborough and Chapel Hill, farmer Bob Nutter recounts the story of how he came down from Maine in 1963 to escape the harsh winters and purchased this North Carolina farm. He’s 88 now. Paintings, photos and awards cover his living room walls, a testament to his family’s work. In 1996, Maple View established an on-farm bottling operation, just beyond Nutter’s back door. A third of a mile up the road, the Maple View Farm Ice Cream shop churns the cream into more than 150 flavors that rotate through the large freezer case. Its proximity to UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University creates demand for its rivalry flavors: Carolina Crunch and Devil’s Delight. On Sunday, July 16, Maple View celebrates National Ice Cream Day with live music, face painting and games. Proceeds benefit the local children’s hospice program.  

(Go Magazine July/August 2017 )

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