Of all the world’s pigs destined to become bacon, those on the Prigel farm are perhaps the luckiest. Not only are they allowed to roam and root to their snouts’ content, but when a flavor of the family’s beloved ice cream doesn’t turn out as smile-inducing as its fans have come to expect, the swine are the beneficiaries.
“We’ve made a few batches that didn’t work,” says Bobby Prigel, the fourth generation of the family to run the Baltimore County farm. “We fed it to the pigs.”
Nothing is wasted at Bellevale, the 200-acre organic dairy farm in Glen Arm that takes the farm-to-cone concept to a new level. In 2010, the Prigel Family Creamery opened on the property, ushering in a new era for both the family that’s worked the same land since 1895 and the sweet-toothed public that surrounds it.
“I know their story and I like their philosophy,” says loyal customer Amy Rohrs, who lives nearby. “And their ice cream—it’s so fresh and creamy.”
The creamery was the brainchild of Bobby, 50, who was crawling around the barn before he could walk. His great-grandfather, John Mathias Prigel, bought the farm in 1906 after working it as a sharecropper. Bobby’s motivation for transforming it was simple.
“We are in a world market,” he says. “We have to compete with 30,000-count herds in the West, with the Europeans and Australians, so we have to do something different. One advantage we have living on the East Coast right outside of Baltimore is we live among the people who consume our products. To reap the full value of what we produce, we need to take it right to the consumer.”
Success in the ice cream business, however, was no stone-cold guarantee. The family faced legal obstacles and had to sell 80 acres of land to finance construction of the building that houses the ice cream plant and spacious retail store.
Bobby believes the ice cream’s superiority starts with its mix, made from milk (from the farm’s 150 cows), cream, sugar, and organic stabilizer. It’s heated only to 150 degrees.
“We pasteurize at the minimum temperature allowed by law to protect the integrity of the product,” he says. “The more you do to it, the more it changes.”
Though it’s not organic—that would make it far too expensive—the family does everything it can to ensure the ice cream is as natural as possible. That’s why the mint chocolate-chip isn’t green.
“We don’t want to use the food coloring,” Bobby says, adding that he’s been humbled by the devotion of his customers.
On summer nights, the line can wind from the counter past the freezers packed with quarts all the way to the back wall. People wait cheerfully for their turn to order a cup, cone, hand-made ice cream sandwich, or milkshake in flavors ranging from black cherry to cappuccino chip. There are no tables at Prigel’s, but customers can borrow a blanket and lounge on the grass outside, where they sometimes even catch a glimpse of grazing cows.
The store also sells milk and meat from the farm, and the family plans to one day make cheese, butter, and yogurt. The Prigels have begun distributing ice cream to local supermarkets and restaurants, but for now it’s the retail shop that’s supporting the business.
“It’s made it possible to bring other family members in, whether it’s helping on the farm or the creamery side,” says Bobby, who estimates that 15 kin work in the operation, and 40 live within walking distance.
“In 1965, there were 6,000 dairy farms in Maryland—now it’s less than 500. If the next generations want to be here, they can be here,” he adds, which may be the sweetest part of the latest chapter in the Prigel family’s enduring story.
The Prigel Family Creamery is located at 4852 Long Green Road in Glen Arm. Hours are noon-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For more information, visit www.prigelfamilycreamery.com.
Make It a Sundae!
The Prigel Family Creamery’s decadent ice cream needs no adornment, but what the heck? Gild the lily by topping your next scoop with this luscious homemade sauce!
1 c. light brown sugar
1/4 c. heavy cream or whole milk
3 T. butter
2 T. light corn syrup
Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook for 3 minutes (don’t let mixture burn). Cool and store in refrigerator. To serve, reheat in microwave until warm.
Adapted from allrecipes.com.