Ice cream is an age-old treat that dates back to the second century, when snow was flavored with sweeteners such as honey. In the United States this delicious treat first hit the market in the late 1700’s and was mostly enjoyed by the elite class until the 1800’s. In the 1800’s ice cream became more prevalent, however there were no freezers so it had to be enjoyed quite fast. Tough life, eh? In present day, ice cream is made all around the world, but few ice cream makers have the rich family history of Wilcox’s Ice Cream with their six generations of ice cream creators.
Wilcox Ice Cream started back in the 1800’s when the family owned a dairy farm in Manchester, Vermont, which now covers about 400 acres of land. They had chickens, fields of veggies, a group of dairy cows, and a love for the land. In the early 1900’s the Wilcox family worked hard at testing out ice cream recipes in search of the perfect concoction to sell as a value added product to supplement their milk sales. By 1928, Howard Wilcox’s grandfather had created the family’s sweet cream recipe and was hand mixing five-gallon batches of ice cream. This original 1928 recipe is still intact today and is limited to just five ingredients! Wilcox Ice Cream is the oldest manufacturer of ice cream in the state of Vermont that is still in business today.
The story picks up in a -25 degree freezer as Howard (Ice Cream Artist and 4th generation Wilcox) and Christina Wilcox (Vice President and 5th generation Wilcox) toured me around their East Arlington Vermont facility. They are proud of their new facility, in which they have been making ice cream in for the past year and a half. Before that they were traveling ice cream makers due to a fire at their family land that destroyed their ice cream plant back in 2001. It was a devastating fire which impacted the family deeply, but because of their resilience and love for ice cream, they obtained their sweet cream ice cream mix from St. Alban’s Cooperative creamery and continued to make ice cream in both Massachusetts and Northern Vermont for about 15 years. While producing in rented facilities Howard and Christina would work 20-hour days, taking ingredients and packaging, driving to the ice cream facility and making hundreds of gallons and then returning to their storage facility in Manchester, Vermont to distribute. Each week they would repeat this process until 2015 when they purchased their current facility. In this space, which was formerly a plastics plant, they can now produce around 10,000 pounds of ice cream in 12 hours. Their goal is to grow their business and they have tons of space in the facility to produce more. When outfitting this facility they reflected on a machine they used at a rented facility that broke down, and due to computerized parts could not be fixed until a part arrived from Holland. So when they purchased their own continuous ice cream machine, they found a refurbished 1950’s model that could be fixed on the spot by hand. Howard loves this machine and he has been the lead on production of their ice cream since 1967 as well as the one who maintains and fixes many of their machines. Howard, Christina and Craig pride themselves on their ice cream being hand-packed, which is rare in their industry.
When it comes to sourcing, Christina mentioned that they always seek to source locally first. Whether it is St. Alban’s Creamery, local maple syrup, or VT Country Store cookies, supporting the local economy is very important to their whole team. For instance, their limited-run special ice creams often have many locally sourced ingredients. One that comes to mind is a special flavor of ice cream they created with Vermont Country Store ginger snaps in maple ice cream. Limited batch runs are a driving force of their business. Their customers instinctively ask “what are your special flavors this week?” when placing their orders. Another piece of their business that they pride themselves on is creating local jobs. During their busy season they employ up to 14 people and they want to continue to grow to support local families.
Howard’s son Craig Wilcox, 5th generation, heads up the distribution business that covers a 125 mile radius from Arlington. Wilcox Ice Cream currently has 12 delivery routes covered weekly. Craig also handles the purchasing and resale side of the business. Wilcox Specialty Foods prides itself on carrying many Vermont made items, such as products from Leonardo’s Gelato, Cobb Hill Yogurt, Strafford Organic Creamery, St. Albans Creamery, Kingdom Creamery, Half Baked Pizza, Pastabilites Pizza Dough, and Against the Grain. You can find Wilcox Ice Cream all over Vermont, including many food co-ops such as City Market in Burlington, and here at your Brattleboro Food Co-op. While the ice cream is predominantly available in Vermont it is also sold at a few stores, restaurants and ice cream stands in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York. On every delivery route they pick up resale products along the way. They call this “Driving Green” and it’s an expression of their commitment to minimizing their carbon footprint.
What does the future hold for Wilcox Ice Cream? The first big thing is that the Wilcox’s have developed a relationship with the University of Vermont to create UVM ice cream for their dining halls on campus. There is also hope of re-opening a dairy bar on campus; I say re-opening because many years ago it was an active and flourishing spot on campus to enjoy ice cream. At the dining hall, they will use recipes created by students in an effort to reinvigorate awareness about the dairy industry and have some fun with locally-made ice cream. In the coming years the Wilcox’s also hope to create an ice cream bar, which I tried a prototype of and it was sooooo delicious. A super premium line of ice cream is also on the horizon. Lastly, they are planning to open their ice cream plant up as a welcome center with an ice cream bar, merchandise and a mini museum that has the history of all six generations of their Vermont family.
If you have not tasted their ice cream, I highly recommend you do. The vanilla is creamy and delicious. The salted caramel is their #1 seller and mixes a savory sweet flavor that is to die for. Their chocolate melts in your mouth and is fantastic with whipped cream and a cherry. Check them out in our freezer section and look for special flavors each month as they have a rotating flavor list based on customer suggestions and experiments. There is also early dialogue about a special Co-op flavor of ice cream.
We welcome you to join us on July 22, from 1-4 pm on the Whetstone Pathway for a FREE Ice Cream Social. Come have some Wilcox Ice Cream, meet the Wilcox team, enjoy family entertainment, and a chance to donate to local family-based organizations such as Kidsplayce.
Pictured on the featured image–
Left to right, front row: Chris Wilcox, Ann Troumbley, Lynne Nunnikhoven, Howard Wilcox. Back row, Carl Ruebel, Craig Wilcox, Austin Wilcox, Bob Schoonmaker
by Jon Megas-Russell