AMHERST, Mass. – The field of frozen treats was too strong for a single winner to emerge from the pack, said Bruce Jenks of Hadley-based Maple Valley Creamery at a May 1 ice cream flavor competition among four teams of food science students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. All the new flavors were declared winners.
Judges said all four entries – chocolate hazelnut fudge swirl, lavender liqueur with dark chocolate flakes, lemon-raspberry swirl and root beer float – were so tasty and production ready that all can be produced this year by Maple Valley as UMass seasonal ice cream flavors. Two will be produced for public distribution and two for sale only at the creamery’s Mill Valley Road farm store, their Route 9 scoop shop in Hadley and in campus eateries.
This was the third year that local chefs and guest judges sampled newly created flavors developed by teams of senior food science majors. Creamery owners Jenks and Laurie Cuevas, who also serve as judges, said they hope to offer at least one of the new UMass flavors as early as May 12 from their mobile truck at Commencement ceremonies, and soon after that on campus and in retail outlets around the state.
Jenks explained that though the hazelnut and lavender liqueur flavors are both winningly delicious, the presence of a nut allergen in one and trace amounts of alcohol in the other make them less widely marketable. But because Maple Valley specializes in small batches, he said it will be fun for the creamery to offer those flavors locally.
“This is one of the favorite things we do all year,” he added. “We could honestly make all four, and it was a struggle to choose among them. We decided not to.” Jenks complimented all the teams, noting that they do “a tremendous amount of work” and spend long hours in the campus pilot food production plant testing and tweaking their products.
The 30 students in four teams developed the ice cream for their senior capstone project in professor Maria Corradini’s food processing class. Their creations must stay under a price-per-pint cost limit while maximizing taste, aroma and texture. The students also research food allergens, manufacturing safety and natural ingredient requirements, among others.
Corradini said that seniors taking part in the 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, she added.
Jenks, Cuevas and others visited Corradini’s class a number of times over the past semester to help students with information on ingredient availability and suppliers, for example. The food science professor said UMass Amherst pastry chef and bake shop manager Simon Stevenson consulted with students on flavors, and food science alumni Ameena Cohen and Gabe Katzentein, product developers at ingredient manufacturer Star Kay White, Inc. of Congers, N.Y., gave a presentation on flavor trends. Star Kay White vice president and alumnus Steve Platt supplied some ingredients, as well.
In addition to Cuevas and Jenks, guest judges this year were executive chef Robert Conlin of the Farm Table Restaurant in Bernardston, chef/owner O’Brian Tomalin of the Sierra Grille and Building 8 Brewing in Northampton, owner Mark Krause of Esselon Cafe & Coffee Roasting in Hadley, and executive chef Charlotte Dewey of the Eaglebrook School in Deerfield. Academic judges in addition to Corradini who graded the students on their products and presentations were food science faculty Yeonhwa Park, Lynne McLandsborough, David Sela and Amanda Kinchla.