Down on the Rivendale Farm with state-of-art ice cream production
Summer is the perfect time for ice cream.
There’s nothing better on a hot day than a cool treat made from fresh, creamy milk. There’s a local company whose ice cream is made from only the freshest milk from its own cows.
Rivendale Farms in Bulger, Washington County, uses a state-of-the-art robotic milking system to produce soft-serve ice cream sold at PNC Park on Pittsburgh’s North Side last year. This season there are both soft-serve and hard-packed options for Pirates games.
Starting this weekend, that luscious ice cream is available in a variety of hard-packed pints via retail stores. The price is $6.49.
“This is the richest, most creamy ice cream you will ever taste in your life,” says Daniele Brenci, executive chef for Rivendale Farms, who started his culinary journey in his hometown of Rome, Italy, where he attended culinary school at the Domizia Lucilla Culinary Institute at the age of 14.
Brenci has dedicated the past year to creating that “wow” factor in flavors such as hazelnut, pistachio, honey lavender, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter chocolate, and apricot chocolate.
Brenci’s goal is to bring that same level of rich taste to the retail product which is available at six Giant Eagle Market Districts — South Hills Village, Shadyside, Pine, Settlers Ridge in Robinson, Waterworks Mall and McMurray, as well as 15 other independent retail locations including T-Bones in Wexford, Adesso Café in Sewickley and Bryant Street Market in Highland Park.
At Rivendale, the Jersey cows are milked several times daily. The animals walk into a stall on their own, where there are treats, and a machine does the milking – a farming method that used to be done by hand.
The cows wear collars that monitor everything from the last time they were milked, to their weight, to how much milk they produced. They also eat via an automated feed system controlled from the cell phone by Dan Ceresna, production barn manager.
Rivendale was one of the first farms to utilize this technology frrom Lely, a Dutch firm that “spends every day making farmers’ lives easier with innovative solutions and tailored services,” according to its website. Lely offers solutions for almost all activities in the cow shed: from milking to cleaning and provides advice on how to organize a dairy farm smartly with the use of management systems.
A robot feeder scans the cows once an hour and has a laser so it knows how high the feed is in front of the cow. It has the ability to push the food closer to the animal to make sure it can reach the food. These cows consume 11 pounds of food and 11 pounds of water daily. This technology can also alert Ceresna to any issues with the cows.
“It’s about combining technology and farming all in one,” says Ceresna.
With the data they have, real-time decisions for the cows can be made, says Christine Grady, general manager of Rivendale Farms. These cows produce 15 percent more milk than traditional methods of milking, she says.
“When the cows are relaxed, that impacts the amount of milk,” she says. “These cows are happy cows.”
Where it’s made
Fresh milk is sent to Galliker Dairy Co. in Johnstown three times a week — Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday — to make the ice cream.
Ray Cassidy, vice president of sales and marketing at Galliker Dairy, says this is the first time the company has worked with a local farm providing its own milk.
“It has been a great relationship,” Cassidy says. “We have worked together developing some of the most unique flavor concepts in the ice cream category using some of the highest quality ingredients in their formulations. Rivendale’s insight and input into refining their flavor profile to match what their consumers are looking for generates a unique product line.”
Grady says the farm didn’t want to rush introducing the hard-packed ice cream because it wanted to take the necessary time to make it right. Typical ice cream is 10-12% fat. Rivendale’s is 14%.
Making ice cream was part of the original plan for the farm, Grady says.
“It is tough to survive in the dairy industry with just selling milk,” Grady says. “Our ice cream is unique because there aren’t many ice cream companies using their own milk.”
Thomas Tull, a billionaire businessman and minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, purchased the 175-acre farm in 2015 and bought the cows in 2017. There are 150 of them.
Tull chose Jersey cows because their milk leads to deliciously smooth ice cream with the best, natural flavors and ingredients, according to a news release. Tull and his wife Alba bought the farm because of their passion for healthy food, sustainable farming practices and the desire to grow and produce the very best foods possible for their family.
“We’re proud to be showcasing the quality of the produce from our Western Pa. farm, and being able to bring our ice cream to a broader community is exciting for us,” says Grady, in a news release. “This is a journey of pride and passion for everyone who works at the farm, and we hope that people will see that reflected in the pint of ice cream on the shelf.”
In addition to their work developing Rivendale Farms ice cream flavors, the chefs work with the head of crop production to bring a unique selection of ingredients to work with at the farm, seen in the chef’s garden at the farm.
More than milk
Rivendale Farms is used as the dairy in all Milkshake Factory locations, but milk is not the only product leaving the farm.
The farm has a community supported agriculture program, which provides the produce for the Steelers and Pirates and numerous area restaurants, including Vivo, Dinette, Station, Acorn, Legume, The Fairmont Pittsburgh, The Foundry Table and Tap, Eleven and Whitfield.
The Rivendale Farms family has a deep passion for healthy produce, sustainable farming practices and growing and producing the very best food possible, the release says. The farm operates at the confluence of technology, innovation and sustainability, and works with leaders in the agricultural technology industry to test and learn in real time.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .