Ernie Pinckney knows a thing or two about ice cream. That’s why he’s Turkey Hill’s “Einstein of Ice Cream.” It’s also why we asked Robin A. of Coram, NY to interview him for today’s reader-written entry!
Turkey Hill wasn’t always the well-known producer of ice cream, frozen yogurt and other yummy dairy confections. The company, like many other American success stories, had very humble beginnings. It all started back in the 1930s when Armor Frey, a farmer in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, began selling bottles of milk to his neighbors. This was no high-tech operation; he sold the milk out of the back of his car.
As his route grew, this side venture turned into Frey’s main source of income. Years later, in 1947, Frey’s three sons, Glenn, Emerson and Charles, bought their father’s business. The customers were all still in the area, so the boys were able to milk the cows and deliver a farm-fresh product to people’s homes quite easily. Turned out that this was actually a pretty lucrative business; the boys earned enough to provide for their growing families.
The dairy thrived and in 1980, the Frey brothers decided to try their luck making ice cream. It wasn’t long before Turkey Hill ice cream became a local favorite in Lancaster County stores. The following year saw Turkey Hill popping up in Philadelphia shops and quickly became a favorite in the City of Brotherly Love.
And the rest, as they say, is ice cream history.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Turkey Hill’s resident Einstein of Ice Cream, Ernie Pinckney.
Q. IS IT TRUE THAT YOU GREW UP ON A DAIRY FARM? YOU’RE NOT LACTOSE-INTOLERANT, ARE YOU?
Thankfully, I’m not. That would not be good for a professional ice cream maker and tester!
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY DUTIES AT TURKEY HILL?
My daily duties vary, but overall I’m in charge of overseeing the ice cream and iced tea operations on the floor. That includes making sure the ice cream meets the high quality standards of Turkey Hill. I check that by tasting various batches and also by cutting containers of ice cream open with my big ice cream chopping knife and looking inside to make sure all the goodies are spaced out the way they should be.
Overall it’s a really fun job and I’m very thankful that I get to do it on a daily basis!
Q. IF YOU DIDN’T WORK AT TURKEY HILL, WHAT CAN YOU ENVISION YOURSELF DOING INSTEAD?
I’d probably be farming. Like you mentioned, I grew up on a dairy farm and I enjoyed the experience. In many ways, working with Turkey Hill, which uses dairy products from farms in the Lancaster County area, allows me to keep in touch with my farming roots.
Q. DO YOU ENJOY PRODUCTS FROM OTHER MANUFACTURERS, OR ARE YOU STRICTLY A TURKEY HILL KIND OF GUY?
I’m definitely a Turkey Hill kind of guy. My freezer at home is always stocked with at least three or four flavors. I do keep tabs on what the competition is doing, though, just as I’m sure they keep tabs on what we’re doing!
Q. I’M SURE YOU’VE BEEN ASKED A MILLION TIMES TO NAME YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR. SO THIS WILL BE A MILLION AND ONE! WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR? ALSO, HAVE YOU TRIED ANY OF THOSE “OUT THERE” ICE CREAM FLAVORS SUCH AS SMOKED SALMON OR SQUID INK?
I do get that question a lot, but that’s because it’s a good question! If I had to choose one, I’d have to choose vanilla ice cream. It might sound unusual considering all the wonderful flavors at my disposal, but I like vanilla because it’s the essence of so many ice cream flavors and it allows me to taste all the dairy ingredients that go into it.
If you’re looking for a more adventurous flavor, I also enjoy butter pecan and our Light Recipe Extreme Cookies n’ Cream. Oh, and also our newest Limited Edition flavor, Double Dunker. I’ve been eating a lot of that one lately!
As for the “out there” flavors, I do like to try some unusual flavors when I can. I mainly find those at small, out-of-the-way ice cream stands, but it’s never anything like that smoked salmon or squid ink. Usually it’s flavors like bubble gum or buttered popcorn. Although I like to think of myself as an adventurous guy, especially when it comes to food, so I’d probably try a smoked salmon ice cream if I had the chance.
Q. WHAT STEPS DOES TURKEY HILL TAKE BEFORE A NEW FLAVOR HITS THE MARKET? DO YOU HAVE FOCUS GROUPS COME IN FOR TASTINGS OR DO SURVEYS OF SOME SORT?
We are always keeping track of what’s hot and trendy, but Turkey Hill has been around for over 75 years, so we also keep in mind the things that have made us so successful. The first step is to create flavor ideas, which can range from a twist on an old standard, like Chunky Peanut Butter, or something brand new, like Movie Night. Then our R&D team whips up some special batches of these test flavors for our taste testing team to try. The taste-testing team (say that three times fast!) includes people from all of Turkey Hill’s different departments. If one of those test flavors gets a good reception, it will become one of our flavors for the following year.
Q. DO YOU PERSONALLY ASSIGN NAMES TO THE NEW FLAVORS, OR IS IT A GROUP EFFORT?
I can’t take credit for all the names, I’m not that creative! The creation of names for our ice cream is definitely a group effort. When we are sampling a brand new flavor we have a fun session where we are all encouraged to be as creative as possible and suggest as many names as possible. During that meeting we narrow the name suggestions down to a few good selections and then we vote, and the most popular name wins. It’s a very democratic process here at Turkey Hill, and sometimes the name you want wins and sometimes it doesn’t. With the exception of actually eating ice cream, creating the names is my favorite thing to do! And, just so you know, my favorite ice cream name is Double Dunker, that name is almost as good as the ice cream tastes.
Q. HAVE YOU HAD ANY KOOKY REQUESTS FROM CUSTOMERS SUCH AS, “CAN YOU SHIP A FEW PINTS OF PARTY CAKE OUT TO MY VACATION HOME IN BORA BORA?”
All the time! But the good news is, we can ship a few pints of Party Cake to anyone in the United States! We have a shipping option on our website, which comes in handy for people who grew up with Turkey Hill ice cream or iced tea but moved away to an area that doesn’t sell our products. It costs a little to ship it in dry ice and everything, but I like to think that it’s well worth the cost!
Q. DOES TURKEY HILL OFFER A FACTORY TOUR?
Unfortunately, we don’t. The Dairy isn’t set up for public tours, which is a shame, because giving tours to special guests (which we do every now and then) is one of my favorite things to do. It’s always a lot of fun to hear their comments when they taste the ice cream fresh off the line or step into the freezing cold deep freezer for the first time.
Q. THERE IS A LOT OF NEW TECHNOLOGY OUT IN THE MARKETPLACE. THE FIELD OF MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY IS GROWING; USING LIQUID NITROGEN IS NO LONGER LOOKED AT AS A CRAZY TRICK BEING DONE IN A LAB. THERE ARE NEWFANGLED VENDING MACHINES OUT THERE UTILIZING THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY. WHERE DO YOU SEE ICE CREAM GOING? IS TURKEY HILL GOING TO RIDE THIS TECHNOLOGICAL WAVE OR STAY TRUE TO ITS ORIGINS AND REMAIN THE QUIET LITTLE FAMILY COMPANY IT HAS BEEN FOR SO MANY YEARS?
I keep an eye on the technology of the ice cream industry, but for the most part, you’re right. Turkey Hill is very proud of its humble Lancaster County roots and we’re going to do what we can to stay very close to the laid-back, old-fashioned ideals that got us this far. That’s not to say that we won’t get a little crazy now and then and invent some new flavors that turn the ice cream world upside down!
Q. SO HOW DO I GET A JOB AT TURKEY HILL?
That’s the best question of them all! We’re always looking for some new faces around here. There’s a “current openings” section on our website which you’re free to check out. Hopefully there’s something on there that you like. And no, my job isn’t going to be up for grabs for a long, long time!!