The day doesn’t scream ice cream. It’s damp and overcast, the seamless canopy of clouds overhead looking as though it’s about to sink down to shroud the earth. The weather seems more appropriate for the start of spring than an early June day. Nonetheless, I am determined to enjoy some scoops in the Maryland countryside.
I know, it’s a tough job.
Ice cream is one of the premiere products churned out by enterprising dairy farmers at a number of boutique creameries throughout the Old Line State. They’re highlighted on Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail, which debuted in the summer of 2012. The trail now features eight creameries from the Eastern Shore to the western reaches, where sweet-toothed road trippers can stop in for a cone.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture is running a “passport” program again this summer to encourage people to try them all. If ice cream fanatics visit all eight creameries and get their passports stamped, they can enter to win a $50 gift certificate to their favorite, along with other goodies. (You can download a passport at www.marylandsbest.net or pick one up at any of the farms.)
To hit all eight scooperies in one day — or even one weekend — would be a grueling affair that would wreak havoc on blood sugar levels and lead to a series of crippling brain freezes. So I’ve decided to tackle just four of them over the course of two leisurely days. Burning yourself out in the pursuit of pleasure is oxymoronic in my book.
The first stop is Broom’s Bloom Dairy in Bel Air, north of Baltimore, which is owned by David and Kate Dallam. Pulling into its dirt parking lot of after an hour and a half on the road from Washington and a scant breakfast, the sign on the side of the brown wood building reading “Homemade lunches offered all day” is a godsend. I’m far from the only one in here for a midday pick-me-up. It’s doing a brisk business. Most of its inside tables are full, and there’s a long line waiting to order. I spot a less-heartening sign on the wall as I wait: “We guarantee fast service. No matter how long it takes.”
I use my time to gauge the eatery-creamery-market, which is chockablock full of country-style decor. One wall is painted with a farm scene, replete with corn and cows. There’s a rooster sculpture riding a small blue Ford tractor on one cold case, while a sizeable cow statue is atop another labeled “Locally produced eggs & dairy.” Another refrigerator unit filled with steaks, sausage and scrapple boasts “Our family’s pork, lamb and beef.” A chalkboard listing more than a dozen available ice cream flavors has been amended several times by staffers. Ultimately, it takes 15 minutes to place my order. The warm woman at the counter tells me: “This is nothing. The line is usually out the door.”
Because I’m on a dairy farm, I go for a lactose overload: mac ’n’ cheese, a grilled cheese sandwich, a scoop of strawberry-rhubarb and a scoop of peanut butter. I take a seat outside at a picnic table under the awning. Fields of grass and hay stretch out around me like a green-and-gold blanket gently draped over the landscape. In the distance, you can see the Dallams’ farm, which has been in the family for nine generations, since the early 18th century.
Surprisingly, lunch arrives within five minutes. It’s a happy heart attack of a meal. Creamy mac ’n’ cheese is spangled with garlicky crouton chips, lending a nice crunchy counterpoint. The family’s cheddar takes a leading role in the grilled cheese, supplemented by an outsider’s gouda, creating an ooey-gooey golden triangle. Both are washed down with a Mason jar full of unsweetened iced tea with a half moon of fresh orange floating in its dusky depths.
Digging into dessert, I discover that the strawberry-rhubarb is more the former than the latter, but still a pleasant treat. The peanut butter is more intensely flavored and completely satisfying. The flavor lingers on my tongue as I head over to Keyes, a 10-minute drive away. Although its address is on Aldino Road, the creamery’s treat shop is actually accessible from Hopewell, which turns off just a moment before my GPS indicates I’ve arrived.
Situated at the end of a gravel driveway, the parking lot abuts a small pasture where several cows and horses graze. In contrast to my last stop, I’m the only customer at this rural creamery. More than two dozen flavors vie for my attention, including Sweet Old Bay, made with honey and the classic Chesapeake seasoning. The woman at the counter tells me that customers are divided on it. I try a sample to see where I stand. Too sweet and too, well, Old Bay-y, I am definitely in the skeptics’ camp.
I choose to fill my cup with chocolate coconut almond and buttery salted caramel instead. The former mimics an Almond Joy — rich with shredded coconut and crunchy bits of nuts — while the latter lives up to its name, especially when you strike on one of the golden veins running through it. Sitting outside on the porch, I enjoy spoonful after spoonful while listening to the birdsong and appreciating the mellow country atmosphere.
On a warm, radiant afternoon a few days later, I drive an hour into western Maryland. Rocky Point is hopping. Several families perch on the benches and picnic tables in front of the back-road ice cream shop, diving into towering cones threatening to drip on shorts and skirts if they’re not devoured quickly. Inside, attendants greet guests with a cheerful familiarity.
There are approximately 20 flavors to choose from in the cases, although the creamery has about 40 recipes in its arsenal. Simple strawberry laced with bright red ribbons of jam pairs well with a bite of the creamy banana. The espresso crunch has an invigorating caffeine kick. The cookies-and-cream is shot through with a generous amount of chocolaty Oreo crumbles.
A half-hour away at South Mountain, the Sowers family churns out gourmet ice cream worthy of repeat visits. Their shop is at the busy epicenter of their 2,000-acre farm, where they raise chickens, beef steers, pig, goats and Holstein cows for milking (visitors can watch this happen from 1:30-5 p.m. daily and help feed the baby calves at 4 p.m.). Almost every table here is filled with parents or grandparents overseeing excited clusters of children, though oftentimes the adults look equally happy to be there.
During the summer, the Sowerses produce up to 45 different flavors. As cows moo in the background and tractors rumble by, a sampling session commences. The orange-pineapple tastes like a creamy tropical cocktail minus the booze, rivulets of salted peanut butter run through the Monkey Tracks, and chunks of fruit punctuate the winning peach Melba. Overhead, the sun beams down. Although I love ice cream year-round, this is the perfect day for it.
More from Travel:
Broom’s Bloom Dairy
1700 S. Fountain Green Rd., Bel Air
Offers a variety of ice cream flavors, country-style lunches and a plethora of locally produced foods.
3712 Aldino Rd., Aberdeen
Showcases two dozen flavors and a selection of its own cheeses, as well as other locally produced foods.
Rocky Point Creamery
4323 Tuscarora Rd., Tuscarora
Choose from approximately 20 flavors, plus eggs and cheese from the farm.
South Mountain Creamery
8305 Bolivar Rd., Middletown
More than 40 flavors in this dairy’s impressive arsenal. The market features eggs, butter, yogurt and beef from the farm, as well as other well-curated grocery goods.