AMHERST, Mass. – Local chefs and guest judges chose a brown butter, salted-caramel ice cream with chocolate flakes as the winning flavor developed for this year’s competition by University of Massachusetts Amherst food science students. It will become the newest seasonal flavor to be produced and marketed by Maple Valley Creamery of Hadley.
Creamery owners Bruce Jenks and Laurie Cuevas, who also served as judges for the competition on Wednesday, say they hope to start offering the new UMass flavor in the next four to six weeks at eateries on campus and in retail outlets across the Commonwealth. In a similar competition last spring, Maple Valley chose “UMass Cherry Bomb” as the winner from among four ice cream flavors created by students for their senior capstone project in professor Sam Nugen’s food processing class.
Members of the winning team in Nugen’s class this year are Anna Kundmann of Pleasanton, Calif., Timothy Avery of Athol, Precious Henshaw of North Easton, Jacob Menacker of Hillsdale, N.J., Cassie Ptak of Raynham, Jennifer Eng of River Vale, N.J., Jacqueline Williams of Concord, N.H., Hao Mach of Woburn and Catherine Gensler of Wheaton, Ill. Flavors in the competition this year in addition to the winning entry were blueberry cheesecake, cranberry cacao and s’mores. The event attracted more than 100 food science students and others who were able to taste all four flavors.
Jenks complimented all the participating students, saying the choice for judges this year was harder than last. It is easy to make a good-tasting ice cream, he said, but much more difficult to do that while sticking to a budget. Student teams had to stay under a price-per-gallon limit with their creations while also paying attention to taste, aroma, texture, food allergens, natural ingredient requirements and other considerations. Maple Valley produces hand-packed, all-dairy ice cream with locally sourced cream and milk.
He and Cuevas visited Nugen’s class a number of times over the semester to help guide students with information on the importance of ingredient availability, cost, suppliers and related information.
In addition to Cuevas and Jenks, guest judges this year were owner Mark Krause of Esselon Café in Hadley, and head cook Abigail LaPan and assistant manager Haley Morin of the UMass University Club in Amherst. Academic judges in addition to Nugen who graded the students on their products and presentations were UMass Amherst food science professors Julie Goddard, Yeonhwa Park and Lynne McLandsborough.
Nugen says the campus is fortunate to have a state-of-the-art food science pilot plant, which he says is “a tremendous help in both research and teaching.” Students use its freezers, mixers, pasteurizers and other equipment to produce and test their small batches of experimental ice cream flavors.
Seniors taking part in this capstone project learn core principles of food science such as the microbiology and chemistry of food, processing, market analysis, value to consumer, shelf stability, regulations, health and nutrition considerations. They must balance food safety, affordability and quality, batch consistency and sensory testing so the final product looks, smells and tastes good. The experience is extraordinarily helpful as students enter food science research and industry product development careers, Nugen notes.