I knew I was done for as soon as I’d answered, “Yes, please.” to the first tiny plastic spoon offered me.
It started with Double Chocolate Orange. Soon, I’d moved on to cool slivers of Red Velvet Cake and Peach. By the time I walked out of the Virginia City Creamery, I had consumed a bowl of Banana Nut ice cream (it would have been rude to refuse it, as the staff had gone to the trouble of roasting the walnuts that very afternoon); heaping scoops of Cowboy Coffee enveloped by a warm, freshly folded waffle cone; and one of the best malts I’ve ever tasted; that perfect, heavenly balance of nutty, caramely malt powder and cold, velvety chocolate.
Mark and LouRae Weber’s passion for what they do is evident in each of the 70 gallons of ice cream their Virginia City Creamery produces daily from mid-May through Labor Day.
The Weber’s ice cream is unusual. This is not the hyper smooth stuff found on many grocery store shelves. Though their ice cream definitely imparts a creamy “mouth feel” as they say in the business, it also has some texture, due to the fact that homemade ice cream is, as Mark Weber explained, icy-er than most commercial brands, which are churned at lightning speed and stored in super cold temperatures to attain their uniform smoothness.
According to Mark, the first thing many people say when they try the Creamery’s ice cream is, “Now this is homemade ice cream.”
It’s the kind of ice cream that was made in kitchens around Virginia City 150 years ago, when the community sprang to life upon the discovery, in nearby Alder Gulch, of one of the richest gold deposits in North America.
Mark, the former head of the Virginia City Preservation Alliance, makes the batches in thick oak buckets handcrafted by Ohio Amish. Inside each of these “freezers” is a stainless steel container, to which ice and salt are continually added during the process; salt ensures the ice remains a crisp 11 degrees. A “dasher”, or blade, whips the confections inside the freezer, adding air bubbles that keep the sweet blend supple. The most modern piece of technology the Webers use is an early 1900’s jack line complete with period pulleys that crank a series of three dashers. This labor intensive method produces up to 15 gallons of ice cream at a time.
A family owned company in Illinois distills customized syrups for every one of the Virginia City Creamery’s 20 flavors. Each flavor gets other additions, too, such as the homemade peach pies that find their way into the shop’s peach ice cream, or the mounds of huckleberries – from a picker in the Bitterroot Valley – which are added to the Creamery’s huckleberry ice cream, a perennial crowd favorite.
And the crowds do come. Since the Webers opened their business 15 years ago, it’s not unusual to find lines snaking around the block. Once they’ve finished their bowl or cone, or in my case, both, many visitors proclaim their devotion on little pieces of yellow paper, which are posted by the entrance. The most common love note? “Best ice cream ever!”
Virginia City Creamery
205 West Wallace
Virginia City, Montana
Open 8:00am–7:00pm daily in season
Travel Tip: If you’re heading to West Yellowstone, check out the Weber’s City Creamery on 205 Canyon Street.