The Babcock Hall Dairy Store churns out thousands of gallons of yummy ice cream annually — enough to evoke must-have memories for alumni and impromptu breakfasts for students dashing between classes.
If ever there were a sign someone is a campus institution, it would have to be getting his or her own ice cream flavor. Barry Alvarez, Bo Ryan, and Chancellor Biddy Martin PhD’85 have all earned attention from the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant — via the tasty tributes named Berry Alvarez, Bo’s Express, and Strawbiddy Swirl. More recently, UW-Madison’s fight song inspired On, Wisconsin! — a cheesecake-flavored ice cream with a dark chocolate swirl and chocolate-covered cranberries.
Since 1951, the UW has been making ice cream (alongside cheese and milk products) inside the dairy plant on the west side of campus. Over the years, the frozen treat has become a tourist attraction, considered a must-do — make that a must-eat — for alumni, students, and visitors.
Production is decidedly small scale. The plant has a single ice cream machine and, depending on a flavor’s complexity, a team of two to four staffers, to crank out approximately seventy-five thousand gallons a year. Operations slow down in January and February, Madison’s coldest months.
The ice cream recipe has remained the same for the past six decades, though some of the offerings have varied. There have been some failures. Peanut Butter and Jelly had poor sales, as did Christmas Surprise and Sunflower Seed, for obvious reasons. Among the standard flavors always available, Vanilla is most popular, followed by Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.
To get an idea of where ice cream fits into campus culture, spend a little time in the Babcock Hall Dairy Store on a weekday morning between classes. That’s when a line of students forms. Some order coffee or grab a bagel, but many decide to start the day off with a waffle cone loaded with Chocolate Peanut Butter or Strawberry. They’re not alone: head ice cream maker Tim Haas has been known to enjoy a large bowl of the stuff for breakfast, too.