The main attraction may be cold, but you'll get a warm reception at Ye Olde Mill, Velvet Ice Cream Company's headquarters in east-central Ohio, 30 minutes east of Columbus.
The company has converted a 19th-century gristmill on the site to accommodate an ice cream museum, an 1819 Ice Cream Parlor, a country store and the Water Wheel restaurant.
Ye Olde Mill is open for visitors May 1 to Oct. 31. It sits on about 25 acres, which includes two ponds, picnic areas and a 1/4-mile hiking trail.
The most popular activity at Ye Olde Mill is, of course, eating ice cream. Next to that, it's the free factory tours, which convey how cream, milk and sugar combine to form frozen treats.
The factory is inside a separate building next to the mill and also houses Velvet Ice Cream's main offices.
"We take visitors into a viewing gallery where they can actually watch ice cream being made," said Luconda Dager, the company's vice president of marketing and sales.
Velvet makes about 6 million gallons of ice cream per year, which is more than any other independent ice cream manufacturer in the state of Ohio, Dager said.
Tour guides explain the processes of pasteurization and homogenization; the importance of aeration and freezer blades called "dashers"; and the role of the "hardening tunnel." The tour lasts 20 to 30 minutes.
Martha Stewart magazine, in its February 2003 issue, named it one of the best tours in America. If that doesn't entice you, skip the tour and head straight for the ice cream parlor.
The Ice Cream Museum traces the history of ice cream from the Roman times to present. "The museum covers everything from what ice cream says about your personality to the history of ice cream and the history of our company. It’s a very fun, interactive museum," Dager said.
Information about Velvet's top-selling flavors is evident in the museum. "Vanilla's always number one," Dager said. Number two is Moose Tracks — vanilla ice cream combined with peanut butter cups and Ryba's Mackinac Island Fudge.
Velvet Ice Cream is family owned and operated by the Dagers since 1914. "We're grooming the fifth generation now," Dager said.
The company bought the mill in 1960 and opened it 10 years later. The current gristmill with water wheel actually is the third version, on the original 1817 foundation.
How much ice cream can you eat in 12 minutes? The record at Ye Olde Mill is eight pints. An ice cream eating contest is one of many activities during the annual Ice Cream Festival on Memorial Day weekend (May 23-25, 2009).
Other activities at the festival include: food vendors, a magic circus, live entertainment, a classics car show, sheepherding with border collies, and more than 200 arts and crafts.
Velvet Ice Cream Company also holds fall harvest days on weekends in October, offering pumpkins, hayrides, apple cider and pumpkin pie ice cream.
You should know …
Ye Olde Mill is one mile south of Utica and 10 miles north of Newark on state route 13. Plenty of free motorhome parking is available.
The restaurant and museum are open daily in May from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; June through August from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and in September and October from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Weekday factory tours run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the hour.
Groups may schedule tours in advance by calling (800) 589-5000.
More information: www.velveticecream.com