WRITER | MATT DAVIDSON
PHOTOS | MOOMERS HOMEMADE ICE CREAM
It’s common knowledge that those who live in Michigan are blessed with vibrant natural beauty, but did you know that we’re also fortunate enough to be home to many delicious ice creams made and sourced within our sweet state? Or that Michigan is home to many dairy farm-to-cone family-owned ice cream parlors?
The ice cream industry has been a state staple since the late 1800s, initially started by families and co-operatives as a way to capitalize on their hard work around the dairy farm and to use locally grown and crafted ingredients alongside their farm-fresh cream. As the industry has grown, it has also helped grow and sustain the families that live and breathe chocolate and vanilla.
You can find one such farm and ice cream parlor nestled in the rolling hills near Traverse City. Owned by Nancy and Bob Plummer, Moomers Homemade Ice Cream has been providing this sweet treat to locals and vacationers alike since April 1998.
“Our kids were nearing the age where they would be getting jobs, and we thought, what better way to help them become good workers than to open an ice cream shop. We had been raising dairy cows for a while, and I was ready for a change from my previous job as a teacher,” says Nancy. “We went to an event where successful local business people offered guidance to those interested in starting a business. We were advised to abandon our idea, as we didn’t have a business plan or business backgrounds. They told us we were likely to fail.”
Luckily for us, the Plummers didn’t take the advice and opened their shop anyway. “Ten years later, Good Morning America conducted an online contest to choose the nation’s best ice cream parlor, and we were named America’s Best Scoop,” Plummer shared proudly. In 2016, USA Today had a contest for Best Ice Cream Parlor in the nation, and Moomers won again, bringing home the Praline.
The Plummers chalk it up to the Moomers experience: “Premium ice cream served in a family-friendly atmosphere by a staff focused on making you even happier than you were when arrived.”
Moomers typically serves up 18 to 20 flavors in their shop, with another 30 or so available by special request. They produce over 150 different flavors throughout the year, even supplying some exclusive flavors to local restaurants. Plummer said that their ice cream is so good due to superb ingredients and the high butterfat content. She patiently explained, “The higher the butterfat content, the richer and creamier the ice cream; you get that authentic dairy taste that lingers even after you’re done eating it.”
South of Detroit, you can find Calder Dairy & Store in Lincoln Park. When William Calder returned home from World War ll in 1946, he began bottling milk from local dairy farmers and delivering it to households in the community. He later purchased a farm in Carleton for a weekend retreat and place to retire, as well as a dairy cow to keep the grass in check. From there, the herd grew and currently numbers over 150. Along the way, Calder introduced ice cream, and the dairy now offers 34 flavors. Visitors can tour the farm in Carleton and purchase cones from the Dairy & Store in Lincoln Park or the Calder Store in Flat Rock. For those lucky enough to live in the area, Calder still offers home delivery service of all their products.
In 1984, Tom Davis and his brothers Rick, Gary, and Jim founded Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream. Their goal was to make a delicious product like those offered at small local dairies, but at a better price. Dianne Tunison, sales and marketing manager for Ashby’s Sterling Ice Cream, says, “Our great flavor comes from using fresh dairy from local farmers and high-quality natural ingredients. Lots of them.”
“The rich creaminess of Ashby’s comes from the 14% butterfat and 85% overrun,” Tunison said. Made in Michigan and sold in area markets, the famous Michigan Pot Hole is their number-two flavor after the always popular vanilla. “When we first introduced it, we offered a portion of the proceeds to go towards fixing Michigan’s roads, and the reception was incredible,” she added.
Headquartered in Holland, Hudsonville Ice Cream has been churning out high-quality deliciousness since 1926. Rachel Hamden, the Hudsonville marketing manager, says, “Beyond a few minor tweaks to improve things, we’ve been using the same base recipe that our founders did back in 1926 when they began with eight flavors. We get our milk from farmers who are all within an hour drive of our facility. The longer the milk is in transit, the more its quality degrades from being jostled around. Our other ingredients are also sourced locally from artisans who make premium candies, chocolates, and fruit mixes.”
When asked what makes Hudsonville Ice Cream taste so good, she said, “We have people making our ice cream who are experts; some have been making ice cream for over 30 years.” Hudsonville now offers more than 50 flavors available in three-gallon tubs for distribution to ice cream parlors and restaurants across Michigan and areas of Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. There are currently 28 flavors available at local supermarkets.
Happily, Michigan is home to many other local ice cream makers whose products are equally delicious. A few to try are Moo-ville in Nashville, House of Flavors in Ludington, Jones Ice Cream in Baldwin, Sherman Dairy Bar in South Haven, and Guernsey Farms Dairy in Northville.
Don’t Forget the Topping!
While exploring Michigan’s wonderful ice creameries, it only made sense that we take a minute to appreciate our favorite Michigan-made topping, Sanders.
Frederick Sanders Schmidt (Fred Sanders) opened his candy shop on Woodward Avenue in Detroit in 1875. He began by selling chocolates, and then ice cream. His offerings expanded to include sweet cream sodas and freshly baked treats. Business was good until one fateful day when a flurry of events led to the genesis of the perfect summer treat.
The story has it that catastrophe struck one hot summer day in 1876. With a store full of thirsty customers hoping to cool off with sweet cream sodas, Schmidt was dismayed to discover that the cream had spoiled in the blazing heat. Quick on his feet, he grabbed the nearby ice cream and started scooping dollops into the sodas of his bewildered customers, forever leaving his mark on the dessert world with the invention of the ice cream soda.
The flocks of thirsty customers injected new capital into his business, allowing it to grow and enabling him to begin making other delightful wonders. With treats like Bumpy Cakes and tempting hot fudge and caramel ice cream toppings, his brand grew, and in 1891 he opened the Pavilion of Sweets on Woodward Avenue.
Sanders Candy continued to expand into more than 57 locations and began supplying retailers with their sweets and consumers with ice cream sodas, hot fudge sundaes, and the incredible hot fudge cream puff.
The Michigan-based Morley Candy Company purchased Sanders in 2002, ensuring that the cherished recipes will be available for years to come.