by Laura Steiger, Outreach Team
Lopez Island Creamery makes super-premium ice cream and whenever possible they include ingredients from local suppliers including blueberries from Bow Hill Blueberries, coffee from Fidalgo Coffee Roasters, and dairy from Lynden.
Photo by Matt Curtis; styling by Habiba Sial
Ice cream is a popular item at the Co-op year-round; but in summer, ice cream achieves peak popularity. Luckily for us, we have an abundance of delicious local ice cream to satisfy our summer cravings for a refreshing frozen treat.
Among local favorites is Lopez Island Creamery.
I chatted with Alex Thieman, the owner of Lopez Island Creamery since 2011, to learn more about the creation of this indescribably delicious ice cream.
The business was founded over 24 years ago on Lopez Island by two women who started making ice cream in a tiny kitchen and sharing their flavor experiments with fellow islanders in exchange for feedback.
Eventually, the island-approved flavors made their way into local stores, restaurants, and events around the San Juan Islands. Since then, the business has relocated to Anacortes and expanded into marketplaces across Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.
Lopez is one of only a few small ice cream producers licensed as a dairy
What accounts for the expansion of Lopez Island Creamery? There are many factors, but one important distinction is that Lopez is one of only a few small ice cream producers licensed as a dairy.
Alex explained that most ice cream companies buy pre-made bagged ice cream mix as a base for their ice cream. Not at Lopez. Their process starts with fresh local cream, which allows for rigorous quality control from start to finish.
Lopez Island Creamery seeks out trusted local suppliers
Knowing where your ingredients come from and knowing the people who produce them is another aspect of quality control, so Lopez Island Creamery seeks out trusted local suppliers.
Co-op shoppers may be familiar with one of their favorite local suppliers, because it is also one of our favorites.
“We are very proud to call Bow Hill Blueberries a partner,” said Alex. “Susan and Harley run a 70-year-old farm that specializes in heirloom blueberries and have worked tirelessly to transition their soil and plants to create wonderful organic blueberries.
We also use coffee from Fidalgo Coffee Roasters in Burlington, egg yolks from Everett, and dairy from Lynden.”
At left: Susan and Harley Soltes accept the Innovator Farmer Award at the 2016 Hootenanny for the Co-op Farm Fund.
Lopez ice cream is designated as super premium. “Super premium ice cream is more dense and higher in butterfat,” explained Alex.
real berries, pure vanilla extract, and high-quality cocoa powder
“That, however, is just a small part of what makes our ice cream special. We also use only the best ingredients we can find including real berries, pure vanilla extract, and high-quality cocoa powder, while avoiding artificial flavorings and colors.”
committed to same process as when the company first started over 24 years ago
Five years ago Lopez was producing about 400 gallons of ice cream per week. Currently, during the summer months production is close to 3,500 gallons per week. Despite the company’s growth, it is committed to same process as when the company first started over 24 years ago using small-batch freezers that make only 10 gallons at a time.
Photo by Andrew Sternard
“This process allows us to add in ingredients by hand and keep a close eye on each batch that comes out. A commitment to producing a locally sourced, all natural, handmade ice cream is still our highest priority,” said Alex.
I wondered how they could produce so much ice cream in batches of only 10 gallons at a time.
The answer: they have three freezers that produce a batch every 10 minutes. “We keep our freezers very busy,” said Alex.
At peak season, Lopez Island Creamery employs 20 people to keep those freezers running smoothly.
“I have the great privilege of working with a wonderful group of people, all of whom can somehow still have fun on the busiest of days. Each day is new and different and we work together to figure out how to overcome the hurdles together,” Alex said of his staff.
Production Manager Marcus Lum (left) and Anna Jenny fill, lid, and bag a batch of Decidedly Chocolate ice cream. Lopez Island Ice Cream has always been handcrafted, 10 gallons at a time, to allow the ice cream makers to add ingredients by hand and keep a close eye on each batch.
Photo by Andrew Sternard
The business is committed to supporting its local community and donates “tons of ice cream” to everything from local PTAs to food banks, said Alex.
Co-op shoppers can support Lopez’s current donation campaign by purchasing Brad & John Berry Bourbon Ice Cream, named for the local 92.9 KISM morning radio show hosts. A portion of proceeds from the sale of the Brad & John flavor will be donated to food banks in Bellingham and Anacortes.
Lastly, Alex wanted to share his appreciation for you.
“We can't thank our customers enough. Whatcom and Skagit residents understand how important it is to buy local, because so many of us are connected to a small business. Institutions like the Community Food Co-op have played such a big role in our business by believing in our product and giving us the opportunity to share it with their members and customers.”