March 4, 2010

Gifford's rises to top of ice cream world

DOUG HARLOW

— By

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Staff file photo by David Leaming WINNER: Lindsay Gifford, vice president of sales and marketing at Gifford's Ice Cream, with some of the many varieties of ice cream made at the Skowhegan company. Giffords recently earned a perfect score in the World Dairy Expo 2009 contest in Wisconsin.

Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — I scream. You scream. We all scream for the world's best ice cream.

Right?

Well, locally owned and operated Gifford's Ice Cream is rising to the top nationally with a recent first-place showing in competition and the distinction of having the ''World's Best Chocolate Ice Cream.''

Gifford's earned a perfect score in the World Dairy Expo 2009 contest last month in Madison, Wis.

''We're ecstatic. We actually received our award, a trophy, just yesterday and that just re-energized us again,'' said Lindsay Gifford, vice president of sales and marketing.

''It's an honor. We're kind of speechless, because we always try to make the best-quality product and it's apparently paying off, all of our hard work and dedication,'' said Gifford, whose father is co-owner John Gifford.

Submissions to the contest are reviewed by dairy-science professionals in a blind taste test, based on flavor, body and texture, melting quality, color and appearance, according to publicist Ann Ewing at Front Burner PR LLC of Portland.

''The perfect 100 percent rating is extremely rare at the annual event. None of the other winners at this year's event received a perfect score,'' Ewing said.

The World Dairy Expo attracts more than 65,000 attendees from 80 countries. It is the only international judging contest of its kind and is considered today's most important dairy industry competition, Ewing said.

The award is the second ''World's Best'' win for Gifford's chocolate ice cream. The company also earned the award at the 2007 competition.

The first-place win for Gifford's was announced the same week that The Griffin Report of Food Marketing, a regional trade publication, named Gifford's Ice Cream to its 2009 ''Best Places to Work'' list, according to Ewing.

Gifford's Ice Cream, a third-generation family business, has long been committed to making all of its flavors using fresh milk from Maine dairy farms that is pasteurized and free from growth hormones, Gifford said.

The trick to making the best chocolate ice cream?

''I would say it's the ingredients, the cocoa that we use, as well as how we make our product,'' she said. ''We use 1940s Cherry Burrell freezers that makes the product smoother, so there's less ice crystals; it's not the fastest process, I will tell you that, but it does, we feel, give the best quality.''

John Gifford, 54, with his brother Roger, 57, now runs the business.

The family, who originally hailed from Bristol, Conn., moved to Farmington in 1971, where John and Roger Gifford's parents purchased Titcomb's Dairy, according to John Gifford.

''In 1974 we bought this facility in Skowhegan, which was Hunt's Dairy,'' he said of his parents, Randall and Audrey Gifford. ''We merged the two dairies together about six months later.''

In 1980, Gifford said, the dairy had a surplus of cream because of the craze for low-fat milk -- that's where the ice cream came in.

The family bought an existing ice cream stand on Madison Avenue in Skowhegan, which was run by John and his wife, Cathy. It remains there today.

In 1983, they sold the milk portion of the business to Oakhurst Dairy and concentrated exclusively on ice cream making and sales.

Today, eight Gifford family members work for the company. Ice creams sales topped $10 million last year.

John Gifford said all of the operation's milk is blended for ice cream in Portland and returned to the Hathaway Street plant for the ice cream-making process. The mix for the Gifford's flavor is done on site, in Skowhegan, he said.

''We make about 85 percent of our flavorings here in our own steam kettles, which is very unique for an ice cream company,'' he said.

Gifford's Ice Cream has been added to food-service offerings at Colby College in Waterville, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., the University of Connecticut and the Walmart Distribution Center in Lewiston.

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