If you're a Western New Yorker, Perry's Ice Cream likely has a very special place in your heart.
The Akron-based company started as a horse-and-cart dairy in 1918, began supplying ice cream treats to school cafeterias in 1932 and started selling pints of ice cream in the 1950s. Today, it cranks out more than 12 million gallons of its ice cream flavors and frozen novelties each year.
Perry's is known for signature products such as Mint Ting-a-Ling, Panda Paws and Orange Buddies. But as much as 60 percent of its business comes from ice cream it produces for other companies under non-Perry's labels, using unique recipes it helps each company develop. Perry's also handles distribution for several companies that sell around the globe.
As a fourth-generation Perry's owner, Gayle Perry Denning grew up in the family's factory — first on Pearl Street, then at its current location, where it moved in 1982.
"When I was a kid, we'd go running out on the floor and get the ice cream fresh off the line," she said.
That new facility was a major turning point for the company. No longer held back by its size or capacity, the company increased sales by 50 percent from 1981 to 1983. It now has more than 300 workers and has market share in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Last year, it had sales revenue of $100 million.
Perry's has come a long way since the days when H. Morton Perry hand-cranked ice cream two gallons at a time, but today's ice cream is still made in relatively small batches. The factory is a maze of tubes, valves and stainless steel tanks; transforming milk, cream and sugar into more than 500 different products.
The raw dairy is trucked in almost exclusively from dairy farms within a 50-mile radius. After being tested for quality and food safety, it's pumped through what look like fire hoses into different tanks in the mixing room, where it's combined with other ingredients to create some of 90 possible base mixes. From there it goes to a balance tank where it's pasteurized — heated to 180 degrees then quickly cooled. The process kills bad bacteria and helps the ice cream stay safely on shelves longer.
From there, it's piped through the ceiling into 21 different tanks in the production room, where color is added and the mix is given further flavoring such as peppermint, strawberry or maple flavors. The flavored mix is pushed through tubes, where it is churned and cooled to 23 degrees. At this point in the process, the ice cream tastes like a soft, creamy custard.
The churned ice cream picks up its last "inclusions," such as peppermint pieces, Panda Paws or bits of cookie dough, and is sent to the filling line. There it's pumped into 65 paper tubs per minute, which travel on to have plastic safety seals affixed on top with a loud thunk. Tubs continue along a slanted conveyor belt, where they're topped with lids before passing through a metal detector which scans for foreign objects. It's also checked by machine for weight and other specifications. Any tubs that don't meet company standards are kicked off the line by an automated metal bar.
After being stamped with an expiration date, shrink-wrapped and packaged into four-packs, they're conveyed to the hardening room, which can feel as cold as 68 degrees below zero. After four to eight hours, the packaged ice cream is sent to a giant frozen-storage warehouse, where it waits to be sent to thousands of scoop shops and grocery stores across Western New York and beyond.