YES! Or, at least, "Mostly". At our North Andover location, we stay open right through the winter. We do cut back our store hours during the winter though. Depending upon the severity of the winter, we open only on weekends during December and January, opening again during weekdays sometime around February 15th / school vacation week.
Well, our hours vary throughout the year, but we try to keep our Facebook page updated with our "official" hours. In reality though, I'm there most nights for up to an hour after our published closing times, and will happily serve you ice cream if you get there and I'm still puttering around.
I make a lot of it, but my son, Mike, makes quite a bit, our new addition Beckie helps out a couple of days a week, and we have two or three others who pitch in to help as needed. I'm very protective of the quality of our ice cream, so although a lot of my kids hint that they'd like to get involved in the production side, I'm very picky about who I'll allow to try their hand at learning this skill -- it's a very demanding job, requiring thought, focus, some aptitude, a dedication to quality, and even a bit of physical strength.
Being able to produce high quality ice cream definitely requires a craftsmanship that isn't easy to find. It's a real testament to these team members that I rely on them to handle this very important job, and I feel very lucky to have them working with me.
Many of the ice cream equipment manufacturers offer training courses on making ice cream. Carpigiani USA offered one of those that helped us the most. The instructor of that seminar (Debbie Lee, of Blue Ridge Ice Creams, Winston Salem, NC) was so good that we signed up for her one-on-one retail training. We've also attended training at Penn State University, by Bill Meagher (Lakeside Creamery), Dick Warren (Four Seas), and Ray Sheehan (Avondale Dairy Bars), as well as courses from Malcolm Stogo's Ice Cream University, and food safety courses through ServSafe and the American Food Safety Institute.
But, as with anything, you learn by doing, and we've done a lot of that. We started out making test batches in our garage. We gradually refined our recipes based on the reactions of our vast array of friends and family who we enlisted as taste testers.
The preparation time to get the ingredients together varies depending upon the flavor being made (Vanilla is easy, Ultimate Chocolate takes a while, as we have to melt down chocolate liquor bits, etc.) But once the ingredients are poured into the batch freezer, it takes between 7 to 13 minutes (again, depending upon the ingredients and how they affect the freezing point of the mix) to turn the mixture into something resembling ice cream. The semi-frozen (about the consistency of soft serve...) ice cream is then extruded into 2 1/2 gallon containers and cooled in a hardening cabinet at -25 degrees for at least 12 hours. This fast freezing reduces the chance that ice crystals will form, and is part of what makes our ice cream so smooth and creamy.
After hardening, the ice cream is like a block of ice -- not ready to serve! So we move the ice cream to a storage freezer, and leave it there for about another 3 to 6 hours before it tempers to the correct temperature to serve -- about 5 degrees fahrenheit.
We don't have any formal tour program in place. That said, we've done tours with small school groups and other assorted friends, and we'd be delighted to share a peek at our production process with just about anyone. Just contact us, either by email, or by speaking with us at the store, and we'll let you know when a would be a good time to come by. Or, if you notice that we're making ice cream when you visit, don't be afraid to ask if it's possible to come in and watch. Oftentimes, if it's not "crazy busy", we'll be more than happy to let you stand inside and watch how we make our ice cream. And if we are busy, we'll let you know when would be a good time to come back to see the process.
Different ice cream people use similar terms for different products, but there are a few basic definitions. First off, the the USDA mandates that a frozen dairy product (among other requirements...) must contain at least 10% butterfat content in order to be sold as "Ice Cream". After that, here's how we classify things at Mad Maggie's:
Ice Cream -- contains at least 10% butterfat content. Most of our flavors contain 16% butterfat.
Gelato -- an upscale product, containing roughly 6 to 8% butterfat, very heavily flavored, and denser than ice cream, as the goal is to whip less air into it. In ice cream production terms, this is a low-overrun product.
Sherbet -- contains roughly 4 to 6% dairy product. The dairy is replaced with water, making this a lighter, cleaner tasting product.
Sorbet -- Contains no dairy content. Ours is made using fresh fruit, though many people use cheaper extracts to flavor their sorbets.
Slush -- in various places in the country, these are called Water Ices, Italian Ices, or simply Ices. Contains no dairy. At Mad Maggie's, our slushes are flavored with extracts, making them a cheaper product to produce.
Notice that the only difference between Sorbet and Slush is what we use to flavor them -- fresh fruit both costs more and takes a lot of time to prepare properly, so we normally need to charge a bit more for them. Other producers are bold enough to sell product flavored with extracts as "Sorbet", but we don't feel comfortable doing this.
(This also leads to a common joke among ice cream vendors: What's the difference between Slush and Sorbet? Answer: 75 cents a serving!)
Nope! The building is brand new in 2007, and we were fortunate enough to be able to lease it, as it's a great spot for ice cream! Our ice cream is hand made on-site, by us, not bought from a distributor.
Yes, we do, and we carry it strictly as a courtesy to those customers visiting with others who prefer yogurt for dietary reasons. We started making our own yogurt a few years back, and typically have 5 or 6 flavors in stock.
No, we don't. In 2004, we made a limited number of flavors from a low-carb mix that we've located. I was very hesitant to try making these, as I thought they'd languish in our dipping cabinet for a long time and not be as fresh as they should be, and after an initial run on these flavors, they ended the season doing just that!
In 2005, we decided that it just wasn't worth the effort, the cost, and the loss of storage space for our premium ice cream flavors, so we discontinued them
Yes! We love serving our ice cream at special events -- in our first few years we've done everything from small "Welcome Home" parties for returning servicemen to large sundae parties for over 500 attendees at various school groups and corporate functions. Our mobile Mad Maggie's Party Wagon is available free of charge for large groups, and we can provide any level of service, from simply providing the ice cream to providing full staff to scoop, serve, and cleanup.
Well, we promise, it's not intentional! The space that we're currently leasing looks big, but we really could use more freezer space. Because of our limited freezer storage, so we need to closely watch our inventories and try to forecast which flavors we'll be needing in the upcoming days. (You could say that we're forced to practice some of the "just in time" inventory management techniques that the Asian car manufacturers have brought to the US.) Unfortunately, sometimes we mess up (or we get an unexpected run on one of the popular flavors) and run out of some flavors. We always try to restock as quickly as possible when this happens, but the reality of the ice cream production cycle means that it normally takes at least 12 hours for ice cream to "harden" correctly to be served. On the positive side, having this limited storage means that our ice cream is always fresh. And heck, if we're temporarily out of your favorite, try another one (or ask our staff to recommend one.) We've got plenty of great varieties, maybe you'll try something that will become a new favorite!
Another reason is that we like to make a variety of flavors, so we have several positions in our (limited) dipping cabinets that we dedicate to rotated flavors. For example, we always have two nut flavors available, but we rotate them among Maple Walnut, Butter Pecan, Black Walnut, and Pistachio. So, depending upon when you come, any combination of those four might be available. Or, if you happen to visit when we're about to "rotate", we could even have all four available.
We try to offer a variety of flavors to appeal to everyone. (A little disclaimer: I'm partial to coffee flavors and nuts, so we tend to offer more of those...) But we have limited storage and hours to make the ice cream, so we have to put a limit on the number of different kinds we have at any time. That said, if you don't see a flavor that you really think we should offer, ask us! Maybe we'll make a batch for the next time you visit!
No again. You're probably confusing us with "Maggie Moo's", which is a big franchise around the country. We're just a tiny little mom & pop store, but we'll stack our ice cream up against theirs anytime!
Yes! Well, "Maybe", anyway... We are normally fully staffed, but we like to keep a list of "on deck" team members for times when we need to hire more help. We look for people who are friendly, outgoing, well mannered, and hardworking, as we've found that these are the keys to whether someone will enjoy working with us. Up to date hiring needs can normally be found on our Jobs page , but you can always send an email, or just stop by and talk to Steve -- introducing yourself in person is the best way to make your application stand out from the dozens of others that we receive during the course of the season.