Industry News | December 19, 2008

Grad Students Hit the Kitchen

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During chilly winter months, business at Buck’s Ice Cream Place on the Missouri University (MU) campus slows to a crawl.

But two food science graduate students who work there use the downtime to develop new ice cream flavors.

“We get about 10 people in the shop when it's below 32 degrees outside, so it equals a lot of spare time to mess around with flavors in the back, trying to develop new things that maybe no one else has really thought of yet,” says Laura Ortinau of St. Louis.

Ortinau and Liz Fenner of Kansas City have developed two new flavors now available to customers—a colorful white chocolate peppermint for the holidays and a Key lime cheesecake complete with graham crackers.

"We kind of volley flavor ideas off of each other and throw out the ones we don't like and experiment with the rest we do like,” Fenner says. Another flavor under development is no-bake cookie, made from peanut butter, dark chocolate and uncooked oatmeal.

New flavors are first developed in two-quart batches and then scaled up to three-gallon containers, which are placed at the sales counter with about 18 other Buck’s flavors. Inventing new flavors isn’t simply a matter of throwing ingredients together.

“There's a whole bunch of things that can go wrong while making ice cream,” Ortinau says. “You can overwhip it, you can temperature-abuse it and cause it to get sandy and gritty.”

“Making ice cream can be complex, requiring balancing of the flavor ingredients, the fats and solids compounds and the air that goes into it,” Fenner says.

Buck’s, located on the south side of Eckles Hall, remains open year-round except for winter recess. While business might be slow in winter, summer brings a constant stream of walk-ins, tours for grade-school students and large special orders. During the Missouri State Fair, the students made 5,000 cups of Tiger Stripe, Buck’s signature flavor, in two days.

Tiger Stripe, developed in 1988, combines French vanilla with stripes of dark Dutch chocolate to match the MU school colors.

While not working at Buck’s, the students are taking required food science courses. Fenner says she is likely to seek a career in the dairy industry. Her family has operated a dairy farm or worked in some facet of the dairy industry for three generations.

Ortinau is writing a thesis on polyphenol antioxidants in Missouri red wines and plans to work in the food industry after graduation in May. Rick Linhardt, Buck’s manager, said if students have initiative, he lets them dream as much as they want in developing new ice cream flavors. “It’s a great teaching tool,” he says.

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