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Howling Cow a State Fair hit

For fans of Howling Cow ice cream, the North Carolina State Fair can feel a little like Christmas: the one time a year to indulge in the sweet, creamy stuff guaranteed to satisfy their sweet tooth.

That time is fast approaching, with the fair set to open this Thursday, Oct. 13. And while the fair is a major showcase for NC State ice cream, it isn’t the only place to find it. It’s just the only place off campus.

According to Carl Hollifield, business manager of the dairy and process application labs in NC State’s food science department, Howling Cow ice cream goes from farm to fork (or spoon) without ever leaving campus. The milk comes from 170 dairy cows at the university’s Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory. It’s processed at Schaub Hall by students and faculty members from the food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences department. And, for the most part, it’s sold only on campus.

“The purpose of the milk and ice cream is to draw people to NC State,” said Gary Cartwright, dairy enterprise system director.
NC State’s dairy history stretches back a long way. The first pasteurization of milk in North Carolina occurred on campus in the 1910s, Hollifield said. Ice cream production on campus began in the late 1950s.

Dr. Gary Cartwright
Dr. Gary Cartwright holds some Howling Cow ice cream at the Creamery in Schaub Hall.

In the late 1960s, students in the food science club began selling ice cream at the state fair. In the early years, Hollifield said, they sold the same ice cream you’d buy in a grocery store. Fair patrons often asked if the ice cream was made at NC State; by the late 1970s, those questions spurred students and faculty to begin making ice cream on campus.

Ever since, NC State ice cream has been one of the most sought-after foods at the fair. Fans typically wait a half-hour or longer at the wooden shack where food science students sell scoops and shakes.

“We always have a long line in front of the NC State Howling Cow ice cream, and I think that probably speaks to the popularity and quality of it,” said Natalie Alford, a spokeswoman for the NC State Fair.

Hollifield and Cartwright credit the state fair for generating much of that popularity.

“I would attribute a lot of what we do here to the beginnings at the state fair because it always seems to come up when people talk about our ice cream,” Hollifield said.

On campus, Howling Cow dairy products are available at convenience stores and at the Creamery, a snack bar at D.H. Hill Library. Howling Cow also provides dairy products for University Dining and several state-run facilities around North Carolina.

The success of Howling Cow milk and ice cream has made the dairy processing operation self-sufficient.

“Nothing you see here was purchased with state funds,” Hollifield said, gesturing toward the massive tanks in the Feldmeier Dairy Processing Lab at Schaub Hall.

Howling Cow’s campus footprint could grow. A fundraising campaign is under way for an expanded facility behind Schaub. The building would include a new Howling Cow retail outlet and new offices for food sciences faculty. Roughly a quarter of the $3.8 million needed for the project has been raised, Hollifield said.

“It will be a place where we could educate students about agriculture, about the dairy industry, about food science and all those things in one showplace,” he said.