Hunter Ice Cream a tasty tradition

Published 7:24 am Friday, January 17, 2014

Hunter Ice Festival visitors enjoy Hunter Ice Cream. Leader file photo

Hunter Ice Festival visitors enjoy Hunter Ice Cream. Leader file photo

It might seem strange, but it’s true.

This weekend, it won’t be unusual to see hundreds of people walking around downtown Niles eating ice cream by the cupful in the middle of January.

It doesn’t matter how cold it is. It can be zero degrees or 30 degrees and people will still get their fill.

After all, it’s the only time of the year you can find the specially made “Hunter Ice Cream.”

Niles Main Street/DDA, which runs the Hunter Ice Festival, owns the flavor. Therefore, they can decide when and where to sell it and, for the most part, they only sell it during the Hunter Ice Festival.

“It’s just incredible. People drive up and buy a quart or two. It’s crazy,” said Lucy McCauslin, of Niles Main Street/DDA. “It can be brutally cold and they are lined up waiting for ice cream.”

So what makes Hunter Ice Cream so special?

For one, it has a pretty good backstory.

The festival is named after the Hunter family, which ran an ice harvesting company in nearby Howard Township in the early 1900s. They also formed an ice cream company.

While the ice cream sold at the festival isn’t the same recipe used by the Hunter family, festival organizers had scientists from Penn State University recreate a recipe modeled after the Hunter family’s.

“It doesn’t have as much air whipped into it as ice cream does now so it’s just really smooth and very creamy and it has a really rich vanilla flavor,” McCauslin said. “It’s like nothing you can buy today.”

The DDA/Main Street used to contract Bonnie Doon Ice Cream to make the ice cream, but the company closed late last year.

This year, Zingerman’s Creamery, of Ann Arbor, is making the ice cream.

McCauslin said not to worry — the ice cream should retain its popular flavor.

Niles Main Street/DDA has ordered 150 gallons. Cups sell for $1 and quarts cost $10.

You can find volunteers selling it near Front and Main streets beginning at 5 p.m. today and the rest of the weekend.

McCauslin said they typically come close to selling it all, generating about $1,000 profit used to fund future ice festivals.

“We tell people that it’s part of the atmosphere — eating ice cream you can only get at our ice festival,” she said.