Compile a list of popular high-quality ice cream chains, and there’s a good chance that Cold Stone Creamery is in your top five. From signature creations to birthday cakes to mini-novelties, they offer just about every sweet treat you could possibly desire. We were fortunate enough to get a firsthand look at all the behind-the-scenes action at this popular creamery, giving us a whole new perspective on the store that so many consider an ice cream staple.

Eight years ago, owner Priscilla Harnesk opened up her first Cold Stone Creamery in Middletown, Connecticut, where she has lived most of her adult life. She made the decision to leave her job as a career counselor to become a part of this company after first trying the ice cream on a trip in Hawaii.

“I loved that you could have it however you wanted it,” Harnesk explained. As a true ice-cream lover, she strongly believes in treating yourself every now and again. However, she doesn’t overindulge; in fact, she rarely keeps ice cream in her own house.

“I don’t get sick of ice cream,” she remarked. “Scientific studies have proven that indulging is healthy, as long as it’s in moderation.”

There are several things that distinguish Cold Stone Creamery from other popular dessert spots in town. For one, it is one of the only real creameries in Connecticut. This means that they actually make their ice cream fresh everyday, instead of receiving it in tubs and storing it in a freezer. The process of making ice cream isn’t simple, but the high-quality taste is definitely worth the effort. The task involves first mixing the ingredients, including milk  and sugar, then adding the special elements that give the ice cream its unique flavor.

“Most of our ingredients come from a distributer, but there are some where we get more flexibility,” Harnesk said. “The pumpkin ice cream contains real pumpkin pie, and I get the bananas for the banana ice cream from Middlesex Fruitery.”

First, the mixture goes into a “batch” freezer  for nine minutes to give it a soft-serve consistency, followed by another six hours  in the “blast” freezer at 30 degrees below zero, the colder the freezer is, the creamier the ice cream becomes. It then is stored in a walk-in freezer for at least four hours to undergo a tempering process at 5 – 9 °F, perfecting the ice cream’s thick consistency.

“batch freezer”

“blast” freezer

walk-in freezer

“We don’t offer soft serve because, after sitting in the machine in a while, it can contract bacteria,” Harnesk said. “Health professionals actually recommend that pregnant women, children, and people with health issues don’t eat soft serve.” We’re definitely not complaining; the freshly prepared, hard ice cream is so delicious that soft serve would seem like an unnecessary addendum to their menu.

After making the ice cream itself, the fun part can finally begin: preparing the creation. The “crew member” scoops out your selected flavor of ice cream based on the size you order. To keep the amount of ice cream you receive consistent, each serving size is compared to the size of a fruit, the “Like it” size being comparable to that of a tangerine, “Love it” to an orange, and “Gotta have it” to a grapefruit. It is then placed on the cold stone itself—the most famous aspect of the store and the most crucial for the mix-in process. On the sixteen-degree granite stone, the server makes a divot in your scoop of ice cream, pours any liquid toppings in a figure-eight formation, and adds the selected fruit and hard toppings. Everything is mixed in by performing a “chop, chop, fold, fold” technique, in which the ice cream and toppings are pushed into the scoop of ice cream and spread around within it. Carefully, the entire creation is pulled together in one neat bundle of frozen delight and placed in either a freshly made waffle cone or a cardboard cup.

If anything about that process sounds easy, let us be the first to tell you that it is not. Harnesk offered us the chance to make our own creations using whichever flavors and toppings we wanted, so we gladly accepted—and struggled. The crew is very well trained, learning essential skills both online and on the job. It’s no wonder that we felt awkward handling the ice cream spades and could barely mix in our toppings; making these creations is nothing less than an art. Despite our inability to become ice cream serving extraordinaires, we were able to create some delicious combinations: pumpkin ice cream with caramel topping and pieces of pie crust; salted caramel yogurt with brownie, Reese’s Pieces, and pretzels; and a mixture of cinnamon and coffee ice cream with pecans and almonds. Of course, everything was delicious. The ice cream has a very rich, creamy texture, due to its careful preparation and quality ingredients. In addition, the process of mixing in toppings ensures that every bite provides you with all the flavors you ordered.

One element people often fail to realize is that Cold Stone Creamery actually offers a great deal more than just ice cream. In fact, we were able to try several of their new products before any of the stores started selling them to the public. These new offerings are collectively called “mini-novelties,” and include: Oreo Canapes, an Oreo cookie topped with ice cream and covered in chocolate ganache or white frosting; Cake Bites, bite-sized layers of moist cake and ice cream wrapped in fudge ganache; Cake Pops, a cake and frosting combination placed on a stick and dipped in rich chocolate; Cone-Olis, cheesecake ice cream in a waffle cone, topped with chocolate chips and white frosting; and Mini-Cones, everything you get in a standard ice cream cone, just made smaller. The mini-novelties range from $1.49 and $1.99, and Harnesk claims that they stay competitive with other dessert places in Middletown and elsewhere for all their menu items. This is especially true for Wesleyan students, who receive a 15% discount.

If you haven’t tried this creamery and are interested in a very high-quality frozen dessert, we would suggest you check them out down on Main Street. Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is a chain eatery in the middle of a street full of small businesses; the staff at Cold Stone Creamery are just as dedicated to their products as any other ice cream shop, if not more. The fact that they make their own ice cream is something often overlooked by the public, despite having the word “creamery” in the name. However, it truly sets them apart in terms of quality and taste. Whether it’s a batch of mini-novelties for a party, a birthday cake for your friend, or a simple after-dinner dessert, Cold Stone Creamery is able to provide you with all your frozen treat needs.

-Ari & Alex (with special thanks to Laura Hess)