Howling cow

In mid-October, the fun festivities of Red and White Week brought forth the unveiling of a new Howling Cow ice cream flavor, Icing on the Cake, calling for a deeper dive into how this delicious campus treat is made.

Howling Cow is part of the Dairy Enterprise System within the department of food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. As such, NC State students, faculty and staff are involved in every step of the process helping to support the University’s mission through the sale of milk and ice cream.

Just like the name suggests, it all begins with the howling cows.

“My program spans from the dairy farm, which is on Lake Wheeler Road, where I collaborate with animal science and the vet school for dairy husbandry,” said Carl Hollifield, director of the Dairy Enterprise System. “They grow crops, they feed cows, they milk cows and then I bring the milk over here to Schaub Hall, where the dairy processing plant is.”

From there, the raw milk is pasteurized, homogenized and packaged in various forms before it is distributed to campus. 

“Anything that you get at the dining halls is Howling Cow milk,” Hollifield said. “We also make the soft serves for the dining halls and the awesome Howling Cow ice cream that you have. All the milk products go back to campus. They go to the convenience stores on campus, the dining halls, the two shops in the libraries and our shop at the dairy farm.”

Beyond purely producing and processing the milk and ice cream, Howling Cow continually develops new flavors to add to its extensive list, the newest of which is Icing on the Cake.

“Within the department of food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences, we have a world class sensory and analytical chemistry unit and they have a bunch of ‘supertasters,’” Hollifield said. “We’ll run samples by them and basically ask ‘What do you taste in them? Do they taste good, do they taste bad, is it the right kind of flavor but doesn’t fit well with the other ingredients?’... It’s a lot of trial and error.”

According to Hollifield, a birthday cake style flavor is something they had been working on for a while before accelerating its development for Red and White Week. 

“It was going to end up being a new flavor possibly in the coming year, maybe for the spring, but I moved up the production timing a little bit,” Hollifield said. “We tested a bunch of different ice cream base flavors, some cake style inclusions, some swirls to go in it and we developed that flavor in a pretty short amount of time.”

The result of these efforts is a light pink-colored ice cream mixed with sprinkles and chunks of cake batter that captures the sweetness of a cake without going overboard on the icing. The new flavor was a success, with it being sold out everywhere except the Howling Cow Dairy Education Center and Creamery, which is located next to the dairy farm on Lake Wheeler Road where the milk originated.

“Because of supply chain [issues] we were only able to get enough ingredients, inclusions, to make one batch. So that was the only batch that we've made, we made it once for the event,” said Hollifield. “It went to all the different stores, we’re [almost] sold out now, but we do intend to bring it back for the spring.”

Those lucky enough to have tried the new flavor can appreciate its creamy, cakey sweetness that sings “Happy birthday to you” with every bite. In the meantime, students can still enjoy familiar favorites while waiting for Icing on the Cake’s return.

“I go after the Lemon Wafer or the Banana Pudding to be honest,” said Yucheng Niu, a second-year studying computer science. “I used to come [to Talley Market] every week at minimum. Now, because I live on Centennial, sometimes I’ll get a pint from here or I’ll just buy an entire tub from somewhere else.”

Sometimes, a new favorite can even be found in an old flavor.

“I recently tried Wolf Tracks for the first time — I bought a pint of that,” said Vee Rothgeb, a fourth-year studying communication. “I think I went on a kick this week, and I was like, ‘I'm gonna get ice cream for like a week straight,’ even though the weather just turned colder.”

From cow, to lab, to hungry student, NC State’s Dairy Enterprise System is working hard to educate students while producing the sweet treat we know as Howling Cow ice cream. As new flavors come and go, students and others keep coming back, proving that we all howl for ice cream.