by Sarajane Cedrone
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Summer 2017
Perhaps not everyone remembers the University of Connecticut’s origins as an agricultural school. They might, though, if they’re a fan of the UConn Dairy Bar, which has been churning out award-winning ice cream and other dairy products for more than 60 years. To step into this student-run hot spot is to be transported back to the halcyon splendor of the 1950s. A classic red checkerboard-pattern circles the walls of the bar, which are adorned with posters illustrating the science of milk-making and dairy production. A decorative case crammed with vintage milk bottles gives customers a taste of Connecticut’s dairy history as they sample cones and milkshakes of nearly any flavor imaginable. An observation window allows visitors to view operations in the adjacent creamery, where all of the ice cream is made.
UConn began in 1881 as the Storrs Agricultural School, a two-year vocational school for men built on land donated by Augustus Storrs. In 1893 the general assembly established the Storrs Agricultural College to received federal funding from the first and second Morrill acts. (The Morrill acts of 1862 and 1890 allocated to each state federal lands as a vehicle for funding a college that taught agriculture and the mechanic arts.) That money had previously gone to Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School (despite the fact that Yale had no farm), which fought unsuccessfully to keep it. In 1899 the name was changed to Connecticut Agricultural College.
The Dairy Bar, located in the George C. White Building and originally named “The Dairy Product Salesroom,” first opened its doors in 1953. It sold the public ice cream, milk, butter, and cream cheese produced in the Department of Animal Science Creamery. According to the UCONN Dairy Bar website, the creamery was established in the early 1900s.
In 1991 the Dairy Bar ceased production of all products except ice cream. State regulations no longer allowed for the commercial sale of milk produced on campus. Production of other dairy products ceased, too, as the cost of upgrading equipment to comply with the evolving health codes was prohibitive. Despite this setback, the Dairy Bar remained a cultural institution of campus life, and the creamery continued supplying it with 24 flavors of freshly made ice cream. Flavors varied from classics such as chocolate peanut butter to more creative flavors such as banana chocolate chip and coffee espresso crunch. Additional seasonal flavors—such as peach (in the summer) and peppermint stick (in the winter)—round out the menu.
In 2014, under the direction of Assistant Professor of Dairy Science Dennis D’Amico, a food microbiologist, the
creamery re-launched cheese production in order to research improvements in the safety and quality of artisanal cheese production. The output, including queso blanco (a soft, unaged Mexican cheese), juustoleipa, (a Finnish cheese that is produced through baking rather than curing), and traditional long- and short-aged cheddar, is sold at the Dairy Bar. The creamery’s chipotle pepper queso blanco won its third consecutive award in 2016 from the American Cheese Society. Still, ice cream remains the crown jewel of the Dairy Bar, winning “best of” awards from Yankee Magazine and Connecticut Magazine in 2013. It’s so popular with students and locals that D’Amico estimated the creamery produced 50,000 gallons of ice cream in 2016, and the Dairy Bar website estimates 200,000 visitors to the campus hotspot per year.
Sarajane Cedrone was editorial assistant for Connecticut Explored and is a guide at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. She is working on a master’s degree in public history at Central Connecticut State University.
UConn Dairy Bar
3636 Horsebarn Hill Road Extension, Storrs
Open daily, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.