AMHERST, Mass. – Maple Valley Creamery of Hadley will produce a batch of vanilla chai ice cream, the winning flavor at the annual UMass food science student ice cream contest, in time for UMass Amherst’s commencement at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on May 10.
“We will serve it at graduation right outside the stadium,” said Bruce Jenks, owner of Maple Valley Creamery and one of seven judges who tasted the ice cream and heard presentations Wednesday from six groups of students, most of them seniors and food science majors.
An audience of about 150 students, faculty, staff and community members filled a large multimedia-equipped classroom at the Integrative Learning Center for the sweet climax of the food processing course.
The winning group described their flavor as “trendy and innovative” and its production as “efficient,” with few ingredients and a cost-per-pint of 53 cents, well under the contest’s maximum production cost of $1.31 per pint.
“It’s simple but not too common,” said senior Adam Salhaney of Holliston. In addition to Salhaney, the winning team included: Constantinos Argyrou of the Republic of Cyprus, Ryan Claudino of Seekonk, Dietrich Pultinas of Boston and AméliaVega of Holyoke.
Jenks said the entries were creative and flavorful, and the judges faced a “hard decision.” Vanilla chai “was the closest to production.” The flavor will be whipped up by Maple Valley Creamery, complete with the UMass Amherst logo, and available for purchase in local stores.
In addition to vanilla chai, the judges debated the strengths and weaknesses of blueberry lemon bar (voted the favorite flavor by the audience), churro dough cheesecake, banana cream pie, non-alcoholic red wine with dark chocolate, and exotic dream, a flavor featuring cardamom, orange and black pepper.
“Every year we look forward to doing this,” Jenks said. “The flavors have gotten more ambitious and the ice cream has gotten better.”
This year’s judges were Jenks, Laura Caporale, research and development technologist at Gorton’s Seafood and UMass Amherst 2011 food science graduate; Robert J. Conlin, executive chef of The Farm Table in Bernardston; Taylor Jacobs, general assignment reporter for Western Mass News; Nick Joseph, chef/owner of the Bistro Box in Great Barrington; and Otto Livingston, executive chef of the Bistro Box; and Kristin Mayer, general manager of Maple Valley Creamery.
The ice cream was judged on its visual impact, texture and aroma, as well as the taste. The sales presentation was key, as well. The academic judges – Eric Decker, head of food science; professor Lynne McLandsborough and associate professor Amanda Kinchla – peppered students with questions about food safety and ingredient choices.
The students worked in the food science pilot plant to develop and finetune their ice cream flavor under the direction of instructor Matthew Steffens, a UMass Amherst food science alumnus.
The teams started with the identical pre-mix, then got creative with natural flavors and add-ins, or inclusions, as the students called the fruit, vegetables, chocolate flakes, graham crackers and other choice components they experimented with. Students faced the real-world challenges of creating a new product, including following food safety regulations, identifying and minimizing the use of allergens, keeping an eye on nutritional values and understanding market realities.
During the semester, Jenks and Mayer attended lab sessions, giving direction and feedback. Jenks and Steffens said it’s a unique and invaluable experience for students to compress the typically years-long process from conception of a food product idea to its delivery in the marketplace. “We start the class, and four months later it’s in a pint on a shelf,” Jenks said. “That’s pretty cool.”