40 years of flavor

Cookies n’ Cream ice cream hits milestone anniversary

Brianna Schreurs, Editor-in-Chief

A 1979September trip to the grocery store to get Oreo cookies secured SDSU a sweet spot in ice cream-making history. 

This year marks the 40th year since Cookies n’ Cream ice cream was invented. The idea was set into motion while dairy manufacturing majors Joe Leedom and Joe Van Treeck were working at the Dairy Plant, then-Dairy Plant manager Shirley Seas told them to go to the grocery store and get Oreos.

Seas wanted to try an idea he formed years before while traveling with the Dairy Products Judging Team in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The team stopped at a little restaurant that served cookie crumbles on top of the fresh ice cream.

“We looked at him and said something sarcastically like ‘Yeah, right,’” said Leedom, a 1981 alumnus. “So, Joe and I ran to the store still in our white uniforms and rubber boots— we bought every box of Oreo cookies on the shelf.” 

With help from a machine called a fruit feeder, they crushed Oreos and added them to a vanilla base and created what’s to believed to be the first-ever batch of Cookies n’ Cream ice cream. No other dairy school or dairy company had this flavor available, Leedom said.

“That is why I firmly believe that South Dakota State University through the efforts of professor Shirley Seas, Joe Van Treeck and myself truly did make the first batch of Cookies n’ Cream ice cream,” Leedom said.

After, the three released the first three-gallon tubs to cafeterias on campus, and ice cream has never quite been the same.

“(Seas) never heard so many compliments on a product before,” Leedom said. “The flavor took off right away—we could hardly keep the flavor stocked in the Dairy Bar.”

Originally, the ice cream was called Oreo ice cream, but it was switched to Cookies n’ Cream sometime after. And despite the initial success, Leedom and Van Treeck, a 1980 alumnus, didn’t think the flavor would be as prominent as it is today.

“Simply put, no. I didn’t think it would be famous.” Van Treeck said.  “But what really made it special was that the idea was more ‘out of the box’ for its time.”

It wasn’t until about 20 years after the creation of the flavor that he understood the significance, Leedom said.

“I’ve never sought out any notoriety for my involvement and I’m OK with being one of the guys behind the scenes,” Leedom said. “…My involvement with Cookies n’ Cream was well known within my immediate family and, of course, as my kids grew up, they would brag to their friends that their dad invented Cookies n’ Cream ice cream.”

According to current dairy plant manager John Haberkorn, a 1985 alumnus, Cookies n’ Cream ice cream is the Dairy Plant’s second-most popular flavor after vanilla. The plant creates 50 gallons each week for 8 percent of its sales.

In addition to Cookies n’ Cream ice cream, cheese and  butter, more than 60 flavors of ice cream are manufactured at the Davis Dairy Plant, which takes about 20,000 pounds of milk a week to produce. More than 40 students produce dairy products at the Davis Dairy Plant to get hands-on experience.

“The main reason we make cheese and ice cream is so the students can learn how to make it and so when they graduate, they know how to work in a plant,” Haberkorn said.

Graduates of the Department of Dairy Science have a 100 percent job placement rate, and some students are getting recruited by companies up to a year before they earn their degree. This year, four students had jobs lined up before they entered their senior year, Haberkorn said.

Erika Franzen-Ackerman, junior dairy manufacturing major, started at the plant her freshman year and chose SDSU because the program was “really unique and one of a kind.”

Along with high job placement, the department also gave out $153,000 in scholarships last year. Franzen-Ackerman has received about $9,000 in scholarships after three years at SDSU, and one of those scholarships is renewable $3,000 scholarship.

“Getting scholarships was a huge shocker for me. I come from a single-parent family,” Franzen-Ackerman said. “It’s just me and my siblings and my mom. So, when paying for school yourself, that’s like two classes.

Franzen-Ackerman said she is proud to work at the plant because the products they make are high-quality. Large-scale companies create a larger batch. At the Davis Dairy Plant, ice cream is made from real sugar, real vanilla extract (according to “Franzen-Ackerman, it’s the “purest vanilla you can find”) and fresh, locally-produced milk from SDSU’s dairy.

“You can take a Cookies n’ Cream from the store and the Cookies n’ Cream from SDSU and taste the difference. It comes down to the tender loving care that goes into the batch,” she said.

Van Treeck and Leedom say they owe a lot to the department for their career success. Leedom currently works as the plant superintendent for Dean Foods in Sioux Falls, while Van Treeck is in Anchorage, Alaska and retired in 2018 from Alaska Glacier Products, LLC, a bottled water company.

“We both owe a debt of gratitude to the dairy science department, but most importantly we owe so much to professor Shirley Seas who in a way recruited both of us,” Leedom said. “Joe was a nontraditional student from Rapid City and I was a city kid from Sioux Falls. Shirley was a great mentor to both of us and in the process became a very dear friend.”