If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's the theory behind making ice cream at Ritchey's Dairy near Martinsburg.
"There have been no changes in the way we make ice cream. We are using the same method we have used since 1940. We use the slow-churn process and make about 40 gallons an hour," said General Manager Andrew Ritchey, whose great-grandfather Oliver Ritchey founded the dairy in 1940.
"It was my great-grandfather's dream to have an ice cream shop. He started in a 36-by-40-foot building," he said.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Carissa Itle Westrick dips a teaberry cone June 23 at Vale Wood Farms near Loretto.
Ritchey’s and Vale Wood Farms are the only dairies in the area that still sell their ice cream at their own dairy stores.
As the nation celebrates National Ice Cream Month this month, Ritchey's Dairy is the only remaining dairy in Blair County.
Back in the early 1950s there were about 20 in the Altoona area, but only a few of them sold ice cream, said President Reid Ritchey, Andrew's father and Oliver's grandson.
Ritchey's Dairy considers itself a survivor.
"We have survived because of our commitment to quality products and service. We have been fortunate to have good employees who worked for us and gave our customers good service," Andrew Ritchey said. "We have a commitment to quality."
Ritchey's and Vale Wood Farms near Loretto are the only dairies in the area who today sell their ice cream at their own dairy stores.
Vale Wood began selling ice cream in 1977 and opened a dairy store on their farm in 2000, said Carissa Itle Westrick, marketing director.
Ice cream sales are an important part of Vale Wood's summer business.
"Summer is the best time of the year. You don't have to try too hard to sell ice cream in the summer," Westrick said. "It is a nice bonus for us in the summertime."
Ice cream sales also are important at Ritchey's Dairy.
"Ice cream makes up between 15 and 20 percent of our business," Andrew Ritchey said. "Our ice cream sales have been substantial this year between grocery stores and our store here. This has been a very good year for us."
The United States produced approximately 912 million gallons of ice cream in 2010, and ice cream and related frozen desserts are consumed by more than 90 percent of households in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pennsylvania ranks ninth in the country in low-fat ice cream production.
The local dairies provide a wide variety of flavors.
"We make about 60 different flavors throughout the year. We usually have 30 to 35 flavors out front (in the dairy store). We make special flavors like apple and pumpkin pie in the fall and peppermint stick at Christmas," Andrew Ritchey said.
He said while the dairy sells more vanilla than any other flavor, it is known for chocolate butter fudge, which he calls Ritchey's specialty.
Vale Wood offers fewer flavors at one time.
"Typically we have about 15 flavors at one time. We feature pumpkin pie and apple pie in the fall; around Easter we have coconut. Peaches and cream is our summer flavor," Westrick said. "There is a limit on the flavors you can keep in your inventory. If you think a flavor is not popular, the minute you eliminate it someone comes in and says it is their favorite."
Both Ritchey's Dairy and Vale Wood Farms ice cream can be found in local grocery stores competing against the national brands.
"We are one of the few dairies left that sell a half gallon, the full 64 ounces," Andrew Ritchey said. "People see the value when they go to the grocery store. They notice you can get more out of our ice cream containers."
Home delivery makes up a significant portion of the dairies' ice cream business.
Vale Wood delivers within a one-hour radius of its farm, while Ritchey's delivers throughout Blair, Bedford and Huntingdon counties and into portions of Centre County.
"Our ice cream is delivered all the way up to Bellefonte and Philipsburg," Andrew Ritchey said. "We are starting to grow our area of delivery."
Both Vale Wood and Ritchey's, which also provide soft serve mix to local restaurants and ice cream stands, remain optimistic about the future of their ice cream business.
"It boils down to providing quality products, and that is what we pride ourselves in. If we provide quality products our customers will remain loyal," Westrick said. "We anticipate increasing our production."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.