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Cream of the Crop

Judge an ice cream “cone test?” Twist my arm.

When North Carolina’s 4-H Youth Development Program asked me to help choose the organization’s centennial ice cream flavor, how could I refuse? Tough duty, tasting three top ice cream flavors vying for the honor.

And the winner is…Campfire Delight!

4-H is celebrating 100 years in North Carolina this year, and the organization decided to celebrate by choosing a centennial ice cream flavor. In conjunction with NC State’s Creamery, which produces the already famed ice cream sold in the Talley Student Center and at the North Carolina State Fair, 4-H asked youth and leaders across the state to come up with winning flavors.

“Cone test” rules required that the flavor selections be worthy of manufacturing, said Gary Cartwright, Pilot Plant coordinator at the university. From the 62 flavors submitted by counties last fall, the field was narrowed to 10. 4-H’ers and supporters across the state voted for the top three choices from the field.

The top flavors were Campfire Delight, submitted by Tyrrell County; 100 S’More Years, submitted by Johnston County; and Clover Crunch, submitted by Gates County. Cartwright said that each flavor presented its own challenges, and Creamery staff had to explore different ingredient options and how they would work. For instance, caramel pieces for Clover Crunch had to remain soft even in frozen ice cream.

By description, Campfire Delight and 100 S’More Years sounded like they would be variations on S’Mores, the campfire treat made with graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows. But Campfire Delight was made from graham cracker-flavored ice cream, with chocolate pieces and marshmallow swirl, while 100 S’More Years was created from a chocolate ice cream base, with pieces of graham cracker and the marshmallow swirl. Clover Crunch was a different type of flavor, with a chocolate ice cream, caramel swirl and toffee pieces.

The panel of 19 judges included Andrea Weigel, food editor of the News & Observer; Larry Stogner, news anchor of WTVD; Dean Johnny Wynne in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; three Wake County 4-H’ers, along with an assortment of other 4-H supporters and leaders.

The bowls came out, numbered to ensure a blind competition, and judges carefully tasted each sample, judging the texture, flavor and appearance of each ice cream, then ranking the flavors in order of preference.

All agreed that there was not a bad flavor in the bunch, and Cartwright said that the Creamery reserves the right to occasionally produce all three flavors. The winning flavor will be available for sale to the public.

Andrea Weigl said this was her first opportunity to judge ice cream flavors, although she is no stranger to other types of food competitions. “It doesn’t surprise me,” she said, “The graham cracker ice cream was not something I’ve run into before. I’m not surprised it won.”

“It was hard to pick a winner, but the one I picked was the winner,” Larry Stogner said. “They were all good.”

4-H’er judges Clay Adams, 6; Anna Walser, 6; and Morgan Halvorson, 8, all of Wake County, smiled broadly and pronounced all flavors, “really, really good.” “I just thought it was pretty good tasting,” Clay said.

Tyrrell County 4-H Extension Agent Bridget Spruill came to watch the cone-test judging, with 4-H’er Katie Woolard, 12. After Campfire Delight was announced the winner, Katie called her mom, and Spruill called her county extension director with the news. The two returned to the county with some ice cream samples to share, along with a basket of ice cream party supplies.

“The flavor was as good as I thought it would be,” Katie said.

The winning ice cream flavor will be made available to the public through the NC State Creamery. It also will be offered at all 4-H events throughout the year, and at the state fair.