My parents were in town recently, and it happened to be the same weekend as the Utica Sertoma Velvet Ice Cream Festival. Paleo or no, my biggest downfall is rich, creamy ice cream—an affection many of you probably share with me, and you can therefore understand my happiness to go to the Festival with the family. It was a gorgeously sunny day, and I got a bit of sunburn despite my sunblock addiction, but fresh butter pecan solves a lot of hurts!
Velvet Ice Cream is a rare success among companies—the still-family-owned business turns 100 years old this year, a feat managed by a scant handful of American businesses. Velvet’s founder is Joseph Dager, who immigrated to the United States at the age of 15. Working in the basement of a Utica, Ohio confectionery, he began making “an all-American treat, ice cream” in 1914 with the classic trio of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. By 1960, the company was successful and large enough to necessitate moving to an 1817 grist mill in Utica (only a mile from the confectionery) where its headquarters remain today and where the annual Festival is held.
After the construction of an old-school ice cream parlor at the mill in 1965, it is opened to the public in 1970—and just four years later, the inaugural Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival was held at the Mill, something that has pleased countless Ohioans and non-Ohioans. “Sertoma” means “service to mankind”, and the Utica Sertoma chose Velvet’s headquarters because the company’s presence has given the town the moniker “Ohio’s Ice Cream Capitol”.
When a 1986 fire destroyed the Mill, Velvet re-constructed it in time for a 1987 re-opening. To this day, Ye Olde Mill remains part of the company’s logo, appearing on all of their products.
Nearly 30,000 people attend the Festival itself; roughly 150,000 people visit the Olde Mill yearly, and based on the crowd this year, I believe it!
As with Lithopolis’ HoneyFest, the Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival is worth visiting. As always at such events, there are all kinds of tempting goodies to buy (why yes, I did come home with a three-and-a-half-foot-tall metal praying mantis for the garden)—and food! In addition to Velvet Ice Cream, there were some truly good food vendors there, including a BBQ truck that had simply delicious gluten-free pulled pork. I was in…no, I won’t say it.
And, yes: The ice cream itself. The parlor at the Mill is darling, unsurprisingly packed though it was on Festival day. As you can see, I did manage to get a few photographs. Bits and pieces of Velvet History rest against the cool stone walls—and there is an entire wall of ice cream counter from which to treat yourself to something tasty. I don’t know how many flavours are there, but the selection was borderline dizzying, especially since gluten-free offerings are clearly labelled! Hooray!
Though torn between mint chocolate chip and butter pecan (if you don’t know I love the classics by now, you must not have been around for long!), I went with the latter, which was wonderfully rich, super-creamy, and just plain delicious. The pecans even had a fair bit of crunch to them; sometimes butter pecan’s pecans are disappointingly mushy, and that was not the case with Velvet’s. I’ve since had the Buckeye Classic, which was also marvellous, and am waiting to try out the Bourbon Pecan because…Well. Bourbon and pecan? It’s a match made in Heaven! (Southern Friends: I can’t ship this. You’ll just have to come and try for yourselves.)
My only, only complaint is that soybean oil is used. Not being a major ice cream maker supplying the Midwest with the stuff for eager customers, I do not know what a better substitution would be (though I’m always up for more lard in my diet), but since ice cream is a treat, after all, I can’t and won’t complain too much.
Despite the oodles of people at the Festival, it never felt crowded or claustrophobic. There were pony rides, puppet shows, egg races, and other such fun for the kids, as well as musical acts (some very good bluegrass bands), the ice cream museum (jam-packed, as it’s right next to the parlor) a motorcycle and classic car show (not while we were there, alas, but Mom has a low tolerance for my obsession with photographing classic cars, so perhaps it’s just as well) and for the comfort of all, complimentary “trolleys” (converted hay wagons) pulled by vintage tractors from the parking area to the Festival itself.
Visitors may also enjoy the parade—an ice cream parade! Can’t believe I missed it—, Little Miss Ice Cream Pageant, and ice-cream-eating contests (the latter is not necessarily up my alley). There are also mini-train rides for the kids…and magical princess-y glass coach rides for anyone.
I suspect the horses were more far comfortable than the passengers riding in a transparent bowl beneath the sunshine!
If you ask me, this is another fine Ohio festival worth visiting. Happily, if you can’t make the official Festival, Ye Olde Mill is open from May 1st through Halloween for tours or just a scoop of ice cream enjoyed on the outdoor patio, in the alluringly parklike spots beside the stream, or in the ice cream parlor. It’s a truly pleasant environment, sure to please almost anyone with its old-fashioned American charm and, yes, delicious ice cream. Definitely swing by this delightful Ohio icon if you’re near Utica.
For more about Ohio’s Velvet Ice Cream:
Ice Cream Festival in Utica, Ohio , USA Today
Velvet Ice Cream Celebrates 100 Years, Columbus Underground
Ye Olde Mill on Yelp