In 2011, Ample Hills Creamery ran out of ice cream. The Brooklyn brand had just opened its first shop in Prospect Heights and stocked it with 130 gallons of the stuff. But the creative flavors proved so popular, they were completely depleted after just four days. It was a harbinger of a recurring issue—as the chain expanded (there are now a dozen NYC locations), keeping up with demand was a constant challenge. Seven years later, founders Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna finally found the solution to their supply problem: a 15,000-square-foot factory in Red Hook.
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, we toured the factory and its accompanying shop and museum. (Though the factory itself isn’t open to the public, the museum looks out onto the factory so that visitors can observe each step of the ice cream–making process.) “Amployee” Peter Beiser, a project coordinator and member of the production team at Ample Hills, guided us through the space. Peter, who helps make sure your pint of Sweet Cream & Cookies is sufficiently stocked with sandwich cookies, gave us the inside scoop on the creamery’s production process.
Behind the scenes, Ample Hills ice cream begins as fresh raw ingredients. “We get 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of milk and cream here every week,” Beiser says. When the milk is ready to be used, hundreds of gallons of it are passed through pipes and shot Willy Wonka–style through the wall and into the factory. Trace the path of these pipes to see where the ice cream mix goes on each step of its journey to deliciousness.
The first stop is pasteurization. Beiser explains that this process, meant to sterilize milk, cream and eggs, also has a helpful side effect in ice cream production: it aids homogenization. “Going through the process of pasteurization helps all of those components come together,” he says, “to create a creamier, smoother mouthfeel by the end.” Even before this factory opened, Ample Hills made history as the first NYC ice cream maker to pasteurize on-site.
Follow the ice cream as it takes a beating in the homogenizer, gets cooled down in the heat transfer and moves into one of the holding tanks where, visitors may be surprised to learn, it ages overnight. This process yields about 1,500 gallons of ice cream a day when the factory is producing at its peak.
The ice cream base is only half of the recipe for an Ample Hills flavor; the rest comes from the specialty mix-ins that they bake on-site. “Ample Hills prides itself on the fact that we not only make the ice cream but also make the stuff that goes into the ice cream,” Beiser says. Guests can spy a massive oven churning out trays of treats like ooey gooey butter cake, which is part of what makes the ice cream flavor of the same name a best seller. (The cake is so popular that Ample Hills now sells it, sans ice cream, in stores.)
A highlight of the bakery is the chopper. Like its name suggests, the chopper uses a conveyor belt to move ingredients such as sandwich cookies toward a big blade. The machine slices and crushes these pieces so that they are evenly chopped before they’re frozen and added to the ice cream.
Now it’s time for the ice cream and bakery sections of the factory to converge. First, the ice cream moves to the flavor vats, where a plain sweet cream base can transform into a flavor like burnt sugar, vanilla or peppermint with the addition of specific ingredients, including extracts. Machines then churn the ice cream and incorporate mix-ins from the bakery. For the Chocolate Milk & Cookies flavor we saw being made, a machine methodically folded cookies from the chopper into the chocolate ice cream base so that the final product was chock-full of cookie pieces.
No visit to Ample Hills is complete until you’ve enjoyed the fruits of the factory, so head to the counter to sample some flavors. Each Ample Hills outpost has its own location-specific flavor intended to reflect the neighborhood’s story and character. Red Hook’s is aptly named “The Hook.” It pays homage to the neighborhood’s history with a burnt sugar ice cream base, commemorating the area’s long-standing Revere Sugar Refinery. Homemade stroopwafels nod to the neighborhood’s original Dutch settlers. This fall, the company plans to release another Red Hook–related ice cream, a seasonal collaboration with neighboring business and whiskey specialist Widow Jane Distillery.
Once you’ve landed on a flavor, select your toppings and cone to concoct your perfect scoop. To truly take advantage of Ample Hills’ Red Hook location, head to the nearby Brooklyn waterfront and enjoy your cone with a view.
The Ample Hills Red Hook factory is located at 421 Van Brunt Street and open from noon to 10:30pm Sunday through Thursday and noon to 11pm Friday and Saturday.