Students smile with ice cream cones at the Dairy Bar

Cornell Dairy: From Cow to Cone

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The Scoop on Cornell Dairy Treats

From start to finish, the Big Red’s beloved frozen treats are created (and often consumed) right here on the Hill

By Melissa Newcomb

Of the tantalizing kaleidoscope of colors available for scooping at the Dairy Bar counter in Stocking Hall, it’s true that none of them are actually red in hue (though Slippery Slope Strawberry probably comes closest).

The Cornell Dairy delivery truck drives past Stocking Hall.
The delivery truck—complete with cow face—outside Stocking Hall. (Jason Koski / Cornell University)

But in fact—from Caramel Three Chimes to Dragon Day Mint Cookies & Cream to Itha-Kahlua Fudge—these beloved frozen treats are deeply, utterly Red.

That is to say: they are quintessentially, deliciously Cornellian.

How dear is it to the hearts of alumni? "Eating ice cream at the Dairy Bar" made it to the quarterfinal of our 2024 March Madness poll on the most iconic Big Red tradition.

In honor of the summer ice cream season—not that any day, including the depths of an Ithaca winter, isn’t a fine time to visit the Dairy Bar—Cornellians takes a deep dive into the hyper-local process behind your favorite desserts, not to mention other products like yogurt and chocolate milk.

It all starts at the …

Teaching Dairy Barn

As the slogan goes, the Dairy Bar’s products are sourced from “the smartest cows.”

Those well-educated bovines reside just a quarter mile from Stocking Hall, in a state-of-the-art facility that was built in 2012.

A cow in the teaching dairy
The Teaching Dairy Barn, home to the "smartest cows." (Jason Koski / Cornell University)

“Our cows are milked three times a day—every single day, including holidays and weekends,” says manager Geoffrey Hall, noting the process begins at 4 a.m. “They don’t take days off.”

The barn is run by the Veterinary College and is home to more than 150 milking cows. About 100 vet students help operate it as part of their studies in large animal medicine, and it’s used by classes in both colleges.

“The routine is consistent, so every cow knows about what time of day they get milked,” Hall explains. “They come into the holding area and wait their turn.”

An infographic that explains there are 150 cows at the teaching dairy barn; each cow produces 10 gallons of milk per day; and 43,800 gallons of ice cream per year are made in 40 flavors

In what’s known as the “milking parlor,” 20 animals can be tended to simultaneously. After their udders are cleaned with a microfiber towel and sanitized with iodine foam, a milk sample is visually inspected.

The raw milk is then collected (using a machine that gently pulsates to mimic a calf suckling) and stored in a refrigerated tank. Milking the whole herd takes about two hours—and each cow produces 87 pounds a day.

Then, it’s on to the …

Dairy Processing Plant

A few times a week, an insulated tanker truck makes the quick drive from the barn to the plant in Stocking Hall, where raw milk is pumped into two 3,000-gallon, refrigerated silos.

Managed by CALS’ Department of Food Science, the plant produces nearly 43,800 gallons of ice cream each year, plus other products including white and chocolate milk and various flavors of yogurt.

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A man pours ice cream flavoring into a vat at the dairy plant
Adding flavorings during ice cream processing. (Noël Heaney / Cornell University)

Whatever the end product, plant manager Mackenzie Brown explains, the process begins with raw milk being spun in a centrifuge to separate out the cream.

(The milk and cream will later be batched back together in varying ratios, depending on what’s being made.)

Ice creams begin as a base mixture of whole milk, cream, sugar, and stabilizers. Like all of the dairy’s milk-based products, the mixture is pasteurized—meaning that it’s heated to 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds, killing harmful bacteria.

Ice creams begin as a base mixture of whole milk, cream, sugar, and stabilizers.

Flavors are blended in before swirls such as raspberry, caramel, fudge, or marshmallow are added, along with ingredients like nuts, chips, and brownie pieces.

The three-gallon tubs (or individual pints) then take a ride on a conveyor belt that spirals high above the production line and into a minus-40-degree freezer for storage.

Container of ice cream on a conveyor belt going into a freezer where they will be stored
Tubs take a ride to the deep freeze. (Lindsay France / Cornell University)

In addition to the 18 year-round flavors, the plant produces a variety of seasonal offerings—and each spring, there’s also a limited-edition run for the winner of food science’s annual student ice cream flavor contest.

In 2024, that honor went to Brewing CommuniTea, Earl Grey tea ice cream with caramel swirls and shortbread pieces.

Whatever the flavor, when the sweet treats are churned to perfection, they head over to the …

Dairy Bar

Cornell ice cream is served in 31 places around the Hill, including coffee shops and five all-you-can-eat dining halls.

According to Janette Robbins, who manages the dairy’s finances, almost 33,500 gallons were consumed on campus in 2023–24.

But the only place where you can choose from the full menu of standard, seasonal, and specialty flavors—for a total of more than 40 offerings at various times during the year—is at the flagship retail store in Stocking, just steps away from where the ice cream is made.

It serves not only year-round favorites like Ezra's Morning Cup (coffee) and Big Red Bear Tracks (vanilla with brownie pieces and caramel), but seasonal delights such as Alumni Swirl (white chocolate ice cream with a tart cherry swirl and fudge pieces), made annually for Reunion.

And of course, every fall there's Clocktower Pumpkin—pumpkin ice cream with cinnamon and nutmeg—scooped in honor of the legendary gourd that mysteriously appeared atop McGraw Tower’s spire in 1997.

A popular hangout for visitors, students, staff, and faculty from across campus, the Dairy Bar also offers savory options like sandwiches, soups, and salads—plus official swag like T-shirts, travel mugs, and a squeezy stress cow.

“When alumni come back to campus, everybody heads to the Dairy Bar,” says Robbins.

“The shared love for ice cream and the memories it brings are a huge part of Cornell.”

A shirt from the Cornell Dairy Bar with an image of a cow on a scooter and the slogan "Sourced from the Smartest Cows"
Official Dairy Bar swag (like this kids' T-shirt) is also available through the Cornell Store. (Provided)

And if you crave Big Red ice cream but can’t make it back to the Hill? The Dairy Bar ships to 49 states (sorry, Alaska!), using dry ice to keep the precious cargo deliciously cold.

Top: Happy customers at the Dairy Bar. (Noël Heaney / Cornell University) Infographic by Seung Yeon Kim / Cornell University.

Published July 3, 2024


  1. Ben Littauer, Class of 1978

    I worked at the dairy early in my Cornell career (1974-78). Drove the milk truck and pulled and crated milk cartons off the line. At that time the cartons had flat tops, eventually retired since they collected water and were not very sanitary. Driving the truck allowed me to get a Class 2 driver’s license, which I figured could come in handy.

  2. William Fine, Class of 1965

    So…What about the main ingredient, milk? What do the cows eat? Are the cows treated with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone? What percentage of the time are the cows indoors and outdoors, during different seasons of the year?

  3. Dick Kurtz

    I remember with great “joy” the introduction of the infamous TETRAPACK back in 1954(?) and taking a quick shower with one of those little monsters when they were first introduced. It was a fun time and I see that the tetra form is still being used for various food and other products around the world. It was a fun time at the AG SCHOOL which I can recall happily. “I want to go back to the old days, the good old days on the hill, back to my Cornell ” , etc, etc!! At 90 i remember it all so well ====== well. somewhat!! Best regards , Dick Kurtz

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