From cows to cones: How Toft's mixes the ice cream of the crop

SANDUSKY From buggy to truck, and vanilla to spumoni, ice cream has come a long way. A four-generation owned and opera
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

SANDUSKY

From buggy to truck, and vanilla to spumoni, ice cream has come a long way.

A four-generation owned and operated business with 74,000 square feet of plant and parlor room on Venice Road, Toft's has served schools, festivals, businesses and hungry mouths within a 100-mile radius for 107 years. A crowd pleaser, the multi-million dollar Toft name is recognized even by the Toledo Mud Hens.

As the sticky, creamy goodness hits the tip of your tongue, it's easy to forget the hard work that goes into that single gallon of ice cream.

Although it can take as little as one hour to make an ice cream mixture, a whole day's process is involved.

Frosted pipes, chocolate funnels and cookie dough bits surround you upon entering the Toft's Dairy plant. Cookie dough ice cream was made Thursday.

Enormous machines, holding tanks and freezers leave you with a chill, although anxious for more.

An early morning on the farm can be intimidating for those who haven't acquired the wherewithal. Many don't stop and think about the cows or any of the 22 farms where ice cream all begins.

One gallon of milk can make two gallons of ice cream.

Raw milk is transported by tanker trucks to Toft's Dairy where a sample is checked for quality. If the raw product meets the plant's standards, the truck is hooked up with hoses to transport milk into tanks that can hold 80,000 gallons of milk that must used within 72 hours.

Going through the pasteurization process, it is combined with creams and solids to create a base ice cream mix that waits to be colored, smothered in chocolate fudge or crammed with cookie dough bits.

High-tech has led to touch screens that measure exact pounds and additives to flow evenly through the mixtures.

Flavor companies sell various flavors to Toft's, providing recipes and ingredients, artwork and names.

Ron Meisler, co-owner and ice cream operations manager, along with a few of the other six owners, test the concoctions.

A fruit feeder injects ingredients like chocolate chips and fruit into the ice cream. If fudge ribbons are desired, a machine called a varigator injects ripples through three tubes that swirl the fudge into the mixture where it is then whipped in the batch freezer until it's ready to flow through frosted pipes and filled into gallon tubs.

Conveyer belts transport almost finished products into a hardening tunnel or Tri-Tray, operating under negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit until it is frozen solid in four hours.

Withstanding wind chills of negative 60 degrees, the finished product sits overnight coming out of the freezer the next morning for input into a bigger freezer holding temperatures of negative 22 degrees for storage.

Each day in the plant brings a new flavor to maintain, one day vanilla, one day chocolate and another day yellow cake batter. Each is produced in quantities and held in storage so when the need is high, Toft's is on top of it.

Thousands of gallons of ice cream, all 58 varieties, wait in special holding freezers to be loaded into waiting trucks.

There's about 16 trucks that travel through Ohio transporting the company's products.

Meisler said ice cream must be kept between zero and five degrees to be considered at good temperature, and the colder the ice cream is, the longer lasts.

He takes pride in being one of only a handful of manufacturers in Sandusky creating ready-to-eat products.

"We have a secret recipe that gives us a cooked taste," Meisler said proudly. "That's why people love it."

"This is the only place where I can sit, enjoy my ice cream and get a new flavor every day," said 27-year-old Sandusky resident Brooke Jones.

Her son, Alex 5, said he loves all the colors; that everything tastes good; and it's like a birthday every day.

During a busy week in the summer, the plant reports making approximately 15,000 gallons with sales between 2,200-3,000 a day in the ice cream parlor.

"If they don't have strong arms before they get here, they'll have them when they get here," President Eugene Meisler said of his employees.

With a client base of 800, and 200 or more phone-in orders each day, 75 employees contribute to the daily routines, including office positions, drivers and machine operations.

Not wanting to grow out of the Sandusky area, the owners are happy with their clients.

"We do not want to be any bigger, it's too cost-involved. We try to maintain the business we have," Ron Meisler said.

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Toft's

* 1900- Chris Toft migrated from Denmark and began selling raw milk

* 1935- Toft purchased Sandusky's Oswald Dairy

* 1937- Manufacturing of ice cream started

* 1940-Requiring larger quarters, Toft's Dairy moves to Adams Street

* 1962- First over-the-road refrigerator truck is purchased

* 1965- Relocated to Venice Road

* 1995- Introduced prime time flavors like wedding cake

* 2000- Celebrating 100 years

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Products by Toft's

* Ice cream & sherbet

* Orange juice

* Milk and new to schools, vanilla milk

* Sour cream

* Yogurt

* Cottage cheese

* Eggs

* Chip dip

* Butter/margarine

* Juices

* Novelty items

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Of the 58 ice cream flavors and five seasonal flavors, my favorites are:

* Cake Batter: Swirls of chocolate frosting and yellow cake bites blended into cake batter ice cream

* Peanut Butter Cup: Peanut butter sauce swirled in chocolate ice cream

* Pumpkin Pie: Pumpkin pie filling in graham cracker crunch in pumpkin ice cream

* Caveman Chocolate: Fudge-filled chocolate chunks and swirls of thick chocolate fudge in dark chocolate ice cream

* Black Raspberry Bugaboo Fudge: Chocolate raspberry chunks and moose track's fudge in black raspberry flavored ice cream

The newest flavor to the Toft's family and a new favorite:

* Coconut Cream Pie: Coconut ice cream with swirls of marshmallow meringue and real pie crust pieces

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Toft's Dairy and ice cream parlor is located at 3717 Venice Road, Sandusky, and is open from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily.