Since the ’70s, the origin of Cookies 'n' Cream ice cream has been debated.
Despite the debate, Food Network Magazine recently named Cookies 'n' Cream ice cream manufactured at the South Dakota State University Dairy Sales Bar the best ice cream treat in South Dakota.The recent article compiled a list of the 50 best ice cream treats in each state, and SDSU’s Cookies 'n' Cream made the cut.
The clip mentioned SDSU’s claim to inventing the flavor, saying, “the school's version, made cow-to-cone on campus, is legendary — and worth the fuss.” With expertise in both dairy production and dairy manufacturing, the department of dairy science covers the entire spectrum of the dairy industry; from farm to product.
Cookies 'n' Cream origin
The story behind Cookies 'n' Cream ice cream differs depending on whom you ask. However, amongst the others claiming the creation—John Harrison of Dreyer’s/Edy’s Ice Cream, Huggs McShane of Gelato Roberto and Steve Herrell of Herrell’s Ice Cream—SDSU’s claim dates back to 1979.
It’s uncertain which way the cookie crumbles, but SDSU’s case is legitimate.
According to ’81 dairy science graduate Joe Leedom — dairy plant manager Shirley Seas likely had the idea of mixing Oreos and ice cream long before they, along with ’80 dairy science graduate Joe Van Treeck, began concocting the popular ice cream treat in 1979.
“From what I can remember, Seas was systematic about the way he did things,” said Leedom. “He saw it, started to think about how we would do it, and I think he was waiting for the right situation and the right time.”
Seas prepared a written statement 15 years after the ice cream creation explaining his thought process involved with the flavor saying, “I took a judging team to Atlantic City, N.J., in 1972. En route, we stopped at a little restaurant that had a small counter freezer. They were putting Oreo cookie crumbles on top of the freshly frozen ice cream, and the combination was delicious.”
Leedom said that students in the dairy science program at State were always encouraged to experiment and come up with different, unique flavors.
“One day Shirley looked at Joe Van Treeck and I and said, ‘Why don’t you guys go out to the grocery store and bring back some Oreo cookies,’” said Leedom. “Well, we looked at him and said something like, ‘Yeah, right.’”
Despite their hesitation, Leedom and Van Treeck went to the grocery store and bought every box of Oreo cookies on the shelf.
After much trial and error, Seas, Leedom and Van Treeck devised the ideal blend of Oreo cookies and vanilla ice cream that they named Oreo ice cream — now known in the industry and at State as Cookies 'n' Cream because of trademark rules.
Seas sent two three-gallon containers of Oreo ice cream to one of the cafeterias on campus.
In the written statement, Seas continued, “We had never heard so many compliments on a product. The fame of Oreo ice cream spread like a fire going through a dry grass field.”
“It took off right away,” said Leedom. “We did a little taste testing when the ice cream was coming out of the batch freezer, and we knew we had something.”
Leedom said the three men were humble about their new ice cream flavor and were not looking for fame or fortune, but rather wanted to try something new.
Seas closed the written statement saying, “We, South Dakota State University, were the founders of Oreo ice cream. The ice cream industry then picked up the idea and sold many, many gallons. The industry generally calls the product ‘cookies and cream’; that way they can use other types of cookies besides Oreo.”
Vikram Mistry, head of the department of dairy science, said at the time that Seas, Leedom and Van Treeck created Cookies 'n' Cream flavor, SDSU was not equipped to license the product, and never did.
“If you conduct a search on the flavor, you will find several others that will claim its development,” said Mistry. “I don’t have any concrete evidence on who came first, but I do know it was developed at SDSU during a time which others also claim to have developed it.”
According to Leedom, there’s a difference between making and inventing. “SDSU has always been innovative and really was the first to invent the flavor,” said Leedom. “All the others were simply those that, after the fact, made the flavor available to the public on a larger scale.”
Today, the dairy bar offers four different flavors of Cookies 'n' Cream — plain, chocolate, mint and strawberry.
“The dairy science program has always done an outstanding job of finding internships for students and arranging for major dairy companies to come interview graduating seniors,” said Leedom.
“I suspect this is how some dairy manufacturers were introduced to the Cookies 'n' Cream flavor. Back then we didn’t think twice about sharing what was new in the department in exchange for learning what was new out in the industry,” he said.
Over the years, dairy science students and faculty have invented other fan-favorite ice cream flavors.
With the flavor Jackrabbit, dairy science students successfully attempted to produce ice cream with the yellow and blue SDSU colors by blending lemon custard and blueberry.
For the 100th anniversary of Hobo Day, SDSU created the flavor Hobo Crunch, and for the 125th anniversary of SDSU, the flavor Campanile Crunch was produced.
“On and off we have produced other flavors as needed or requested,” said Mistry. “Many years ago, the dean of the College of Ag at the time requested Jalapeno ice cream. It was an interesting combination that we have not manufactured since then. Licorice is a flavor we manufacture once in a while if requested by our customers.”
Whoever truly created the first batch of Cookies 'n' Cream ice cream remains a mystery, but despite that, the flavor has been a hit around the country ever since.
“In any case, one thing I can say for sure is that we have an incredibly good Cookies 'n' Cream ice cream that everyone should try,” said Mistry. “It’s one of the best selling flavors in the dairy bar, and we take pride in it.”
To taste for yourself, visit the SDSU Dairy Bar, a block east of Medary Avenue and 11th Street in Brookings.