Happy Birthday, Aggie Ice Cream! January 21, 2022, marks the centennial anniversary of the quintessential Aggie treat, and to honor this milestone, USU will celebrate all year with new and returning flavors and special events.
The Aggie Ice Cream tradition is a cherished part of university history, stretching back to the days of the Utah Agricultural College (UAC). In 1920, a new professor arrived who would forever transform the college creamery as well as the ice cream business throughout the state of Utah. Gustav Wilster, the father of Aggie Ice Cream, taught at the Queensland Agricultural College in Australia before moving to the United States. Wilster taught at Iowa State University and came west to revitalize the UAC’s curriculum in the Department of Dairying after some activities on campus had been pushed aside by the 1919 influenza pandemic.
Though milk from the college dairy had been available on campus — and an all-you-can-drink supply of free buttermilk at the entrance to the Animal Industries Building fed many hungry students here for decades — Wilster arrived ready to study and teach dairy food processing, including ice cream. Using newly purchased machinery and a passion for teaching, Wilster reopened the doors of the Aggie Creamery in January of 1922 with a new focus on selling student-made ice cream to the student body and the public.
Student Life chronicled the event: "The Dairy Department under the direction of Professor Gustav Wilster is now making lacto ice cream, which has never before been produced in Utah, the formula for which he brought from Iowa. It is a frozen ice cream made from pasteurized milk that has been ripened with pure culture and then had sugar and flavoring added. This new product is meeting with great favor locally."
In the summer of 1922, Wilster and his students' skills were put to the test at the annual UAC Farmer's Encampment. About 2,500 people camped on the Quad and enjoyed ice cream, milk, and cheese produced by the Aggie Creamery.
Although his time at USU was brief, Wilster left a great and lasting impression on the college and the students he taught. Several of his students went on to found successful and iconic Utah ice cream businesses including Casper Merrill who opened Casper's Ice Cream and invented the Fat Boy Ice Cream sandwich, and members of the Farr family who founded Farr Better Ice Cream in Ogden.
Other of Wilster's students, including A.J. Morris and Paul B. Larsen, later joined the faculty and continued the tradition of reaching out beyond the university by conducting annual ice cream short courses for people in the dairy industry. The printed program from one such week-long course in 1949 shows Laird Snelgrove, another well-known name in Utah ice cream history, conducting the sessions that featured Morris and Larsen teaching.
Professor Morris, who was extremely cognizant of the nuances of ice cream, could identify students by the quality of their ice cream. While traveling through the Midwest one summer, he stopped at an ice cream parlor. After tasting the ice cream, he commented, "This is one of my students’ ice cream." Sure enough, a former student managed the ice cream operation and Morris was delighted to see the fruits of his labor so many miles from campus.
The school’s creamery has moved over the decades from its original spot in the basement of Old Main, to a small building on the Quad, and later to the Animal Industry Building. The Aggie Creamery is now in the C. Anthon Ernstrom Nutrition and Food Sciences Building, named after the professor who replaced Morris as head of dairy manufacturing in 1968. Professor Ernstrom also founded Heart to Heart Foods, which later developed the regionally famous Creamies ice cream pop. Production of ice cream and award-winning cheese is now done in a lab named for another long-time faculty member and influence on the dairy products industry, Emeritus Professor Gary Richardson.
The Aggie Creamery production and store both underwent renovations in 2018, with the addition of a Soda Shoppe. Bridgett Liberty currently manages the production of Aggie Ice Cream.
"It hasn't mattered over the last 100 years who is in charge,” Liberty said. “It hasn't mattered who they were or where they came from, what they did, there's a standard that Utah State has set that we're the best ice cream maker, and that has not changed regardless of who has been in charge."
As a testament to Aggie Ice Cream's quality, the USU Creamery was awarded the Best of State: Ice Cream in 2021, an honor previously awarded in 2016. Aggie Ice Cream was also voted Logan's best ice cream in 2017 by a Logan City poll, and Utah's best ice cream in 2016 by KSL. In 2017, Deseret News readers voted Aggie Ice Cream as the best over the BYU Creamery.
Liberty attributes Aggie Ice Cream's longevity to the quality of the milk produced by the USU Caine Dairy, a commitment to traditional methods, and community support.
"We're all connected," she said. "You can't be in an agricultural business and not be connected. From the local farmers who grow the feed to the cows cared for on the farm to the business relationships we have with Gossner’s and other local plants, it's all connected."
For a century now, students, faculty, alumni, and Cache Valley residents have made Aggie Ice Cream part of their personal and family’s traditions. Countless students have celebrated finishing finals, graduation, birthdays, and other milestones with Aggie Ice Cream. Stop by the Aggie Creamery just about any time, but especially on summer evenings, and you’ll find families making memories while they enjoy their favorite flavors
Liberty emphasized that the centennial celebrations will focus on giving back to the community.
"Aggie Ice Cream wouldn't be what it is without support from the community and customers who come faithfully all the time," she said.
This support is not only local, but regional, and sometimes global. With online purchasing becoming available in 2020, Aggie Ice Cream has been shipped as far as Switzerland, over 5,000 miles away.