Virginia Tech and Homestead Creamery have formed a partnership based on a shared passion for locally sourced, home-grown, quality ingredients.

The collaboration between the nationally ranked Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Food Science and Technology and the award-winning Homestead Creamery brings innovative food science research to market in the form of delicious Hokie-inspired ice cream with proceeds benefiting student engagement and scholarship as well as Virginia’s economy.

The first ice cream flavor, Hokie Tracks, will roll out to ice cream shops and restaurants around Virginia in early fall. Hokie Tracks is a creamy vanilla ice cream with a ribbon of salted caramel and dark chocolate-covered pretzel chunks, created to celebrate Virginia Tech’s roots in agriculture as part of the university’s 150th anniversary. 

Later this year, Hokie Tracks will be more widely available for consumers in grocery stores and specialty stores along the East Coast, and the Hokie ice cream collection will be expanded in the future. In the meantime, Hokies can get an exclusive taste of the ice cream at three upcoming events in Roanoke, Richmond, and Washington, D.C.

The ice cream flavor profiles and recipe development were led by Department of Food Science and Technology faculty members Joell Eifert and Brian Wiersema in collaboration with Homestead’s team and tweaked along the way with feedback from the Virginia Tech community.

“I’ve worked with Homestead Creamery for several years. Being able to formalize the partnership is exciting and reinforces Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission to support agriculture while benefiting the university and the state,” said Eifert, director of the Food Innovations Program. “It’s rewarding to be able to develop the ice cream recipes with a reputable industry partner, while knowing the work will reap rewards that directly impact our department and students.”

Homestead Creamery is a small, locally owned dairy processing plant nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Burnt Chimney, Virginia. With dreams of preserving the family farm for future generations and marketing products directly to consumers, two dairy farmers combined efforts to establish the company in 2001. Today, Homestead Creamery is made up of a small network of locally owned dairy farms run by families who believe in an honest day's work. Each farm is dedicated to the health and happiness of the cows and the quality of the products that are produced for the consumers.

“We’ve worked with Joell and other Virginia Tech researchers for several years, and as a Virginia-based company, our values and mission are aligned with Virginia Tech’s values, so formalizing the partnership with the university was a no-brainer,” said Kasey Kohl, president of Homestead Creamery. “Through the collaboration we are able to fulfill the Homestead promise, which is to deliver wholesome, quality food products.” 

Hokie Tracks ice cream. Photo by Lee Friesland for Virginia Tech.
Hokie Tracks ice cream. Photo by Lee Friesland for Virginia Tech.

Long-standing history of agriculture excellence

In the summer of 1893, a creamery and cheese factory were built on Blacksburg’s campus near Price Hall. With milk production from the campus dairy cows, Virginia Tech supplied the town of Blacksburg with dairy products, delivering them door to door. The dairy sales room in the dairy science department became an institution at Virginia Tech, serving ice cream to students and the local community from the early 1930s through 1967.  

Since 1968, the Department of Food Science and Technology has been a leader in contributing to food quality, safety, marketability, and availability through excellence in teaching, research, and Virginia Cooperative Extension. The department’s nationally ranked undergraduate and graduate programs prepare students for careers in industry, government, and academia.

Once a small program intended to complement the food studies curriculums within the former Department of Animal, Dairy, and Poultry Science, today's department has grown into one of the top food science programs in the country, spurred on by its nearly 100 percent job placement rate and the ongoing rapid expansion of the global food industry. Notable alumni include the current president of Kansas State University, the director of the Panamanian Food Agency, and the former U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety.

The department is ranked ninth on Successful Student’s list of the 10 Best Bachelor’s in Food Science and Nutrition Programs in the country and eighth on its list of Best Master’s in Food Science Programs.

“With a focus on experiential learning, the department prides itself in uniquely preparing students for success,” said Wiersema, pilot plant manager at Virginia Tech. “With our cutting-edge facilities and innovative programs, like our food and beverage fermentation program, we are helping shape and prepare undergraduate and graduate students so that they are not only ready to enter the workforce, but contribute to the evolution of the industry with emerging technologies.”

In 2017, the department’s food and beverage fermentation degree option became one of only eight four-year brewing programs in North America to be officially recognized by the Master Brewers Association of the Americas. Shortly after, the department established a student exchange program with the Technical University of Munich Weihenstephan, providing students the hands-on opportunity to learn brewing science and technology from experts at the premier university for brewing science and research, including learning at the oldest continuously operating brewery in the world in Freising, Germany.

Two years ago, Virginia Tech announced a partnership with Hardywood Park Craft Brewery to create the award-winning Fightin’ Hokies Lager, Virginia Tech’s first licensed beer, which became Virginia’s top-selling craft brew in its first year on the market, according to Nielson. The beer was awarded a silver medal at the 2022 Australian International Beer Awards in the Munich-style helles category and second place in the pale European lagers category at the Virginia Brewers Guild. Additionally, created to celebrate Virginia Tech’s 150th anniversary, All Hail to Thee is the second beer developed in collaboration with Hardywood available for consumers in May.

“We’re excited to build on the momentum of the beer’s success,” said Wiersema. “The new and exciting collaboration with the award-winning Homestead Creamery is the latest step in its continued growth, signifying a bright future for the department.”

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