OKEECHOBEE–— When Milking R Dairy owner Sutton Rucks first started selling ice cream, he viewed it as just a small bonus for those who booked one of the personal guided farm tours that his dairy had recently started giving.
But what started as a small extra has now quickly evolved into the main attraction at the dairy. The small batches of ice cream the Rucks family creates sell out within minutes of being posted online. A group on Facebook called the “Milking R Ice Cream Fan Club,” where Sutton’s daughter Lindsey Rucks posts updates on when new batches will go up for sale, has grown to over 2,000 members. In the group, members devise the quickest ways to check out and pre-order the ice cream before it sells out, post celebratory pictures when picking up the dessert and write rave reviews once they try it.
Who would’ve thought in the middle of a pandemic that the hottest commodity wouldn’t be hand sanitizers, masks or toilet paper, but instead good old-fashioned homemade ice cream?
“We didn’t expect this at all,” said Mr. Rucks. “The overwhelming support we’ve gotten from the community has been amazing. We had 200 people show up on throughout the first day to buy ice cream. And we’ve been scrambling ever since to catch up.”
In addition to running the dairy, the Rucks family has worked full-time in an attempt to keep up with the demand for their product. But this isn’t a factory that can simply ramp up production. The ice cream is homemade in the realest sense, with the Ruckses making small batches of 35 to 45 pints at a time. Sutton says they’ve slowly perfected the 20 different flavors of ice cream at the dairy through a system of trial and error.
Those 20 flavors are: maple bacon, white chocolate chip, butterfinger, banana pudding, cinn bourbon, java chip, mint chip, velvet Swiss, caramel crunch, cake and candles, cinnamon toast crunch, avocad-oh, key lime, honey vanilla, blueberry cheesecake, strawberry, cookie butter, smore goodness, Oreo crunch and horchata.
Banana pudding has been the top seller in the early going.
“We put whole vanilla wafers at the bottom of the pint ,then crushed wafers on the top,” said Mr. Rucks of the banana pudding flavor. “We just want that personal touch. We try to get fresh fruit from here in Florida. We actually had a farm over in Hardee County that gave us some blueberries. We get a lot of requests for blueberry cheesecake, but it is probably the most time-consuming to make. We’re trying to grab as much natural flavor as we can.”
Currently Milking R is using a mix from a processor, but the eventual goal is to use milk from their own dairy in the ice cream with a small processing facility on site.
One of the secret weapons inside the Milking R Ice Cream is its fat percentage. The higher fat percentage gives the ice cream a delicious rich, creamy flavor. It makes the ice cream taste like heaven; just don’t check the calories.
The success of Milking R Dairy’s ice cream as been a bright spot in an industry currently at a grim crossroads. In the first week of April, dairy farms across Okeechobee had to dump thousands of gallons of milk as demand plummeted with the closing of restaurants and schools due to COVID-19.
“It’s very upsetting and disheartening when you’re looking at 12-24 hours worth of work and then having to dump it,” explained Mr. Rucks. “Our farm hasn’t had to dump milk, but my friends have had to. The processors are gearing up now. I think they understand the urgency of getting as much milk on the shelf as we can. No one was prepared for this. My family has been in the dairy business for 80-plus years, just like most of the people here in the area. This, too, shall pass.”
With the industry getting hit so hard right now, it’s important to look for a silver lining. The massive amount of support that the people of Okeechobee have shown to Milking R Dairy in the midst of a pandemic is one of those silver linings.
“It’s an honor that we have so many people coming out and supporting us,” said Mr. Rucks, holding back tears. “I never thought in a hundred years that someone would drive from town to buy a pint of ice cream off of a dairy farm. I think everyone loses in this situation if we lose this industry. I don’t want the consumers in Okeechobee and south Florida to lose a local supply of milk.”
You can find out more information and order ice cream at the dairy’s website, milkingrdairy.com. Updates on when the next batch of ice cream will be done can be found on the Milking R Ice Cream Fan Club Facebook group. But you’ll have to be quick on the draw when making an order, because they’ll go fast.