By Pat van den Beemt, email@example.com
7:57 AM EDT, May 16, 2012
Audrey Haig, 5, and Olivia Donohue, 4, have just polished off their ice cream when they run across the lawn at Prigel Family Creamery to see the cows.
Some 150 fawn-colored Jersey cows are standing in a line that rambles from a gate at Long Green Road through a field next to the creamery.
"Hi, cow. Hi cow. Here's some food for you. Here you go," the girls say as they pull up grass and throw it toward one whose head reaches under a fence toward them.
The youngsters have no idea they're talking to the source of the black cherry and the caramel pretzel ice cream they just ate.
The entire process — from cow to milk to cone — takes place on Bellevale Farm run by three generations of Prigels.
John Donohue and Olivia, of Cockeysville, stop by on this recent Friday afternoon for cows, country scenes and ice cream after he picks her up from Chestnut Grove Child Development Center in Jacksonville.
Olivia and Audrey don't know each other, but they stand near each other, slurping ice cream, and become instant friends.
Like Donohue, Chelsea Haig brings Audrey to the Prigel creamery on their way home from nearby St. John's Lutheran School.
"We come here all the time. We love their ice cream," says Haig, of Perry Hall. "We drive by here every morning and look for Daisy, their dog. It's like this is our very own ice cream store."
Sentiments like that make Bobby Prigel, who heads up the family creamery, as content as his pasture-fed, certified organic cows.
And he knows it would please his great-grandfather John Mathias Prigel, who was a sharecropper on the land in 1895. He bought it in 1906 and named it Bellevale Farm.
"We've had loyal fans since the day we opened two years ago," Prigel said. "Our first day, we wanted to do a slow opening, so we just took down our 'Closed' sign. Four hundred people showed up. It was amazing."
The cows are milked in a barn on the other side of Long Green Road, so they leave their two young friends to follow Scott Childs, 26, Prigel's nephew.
"C'mon. C'mon. Move it up. Move it up," he urges as the cows saunter across the road in the mid-afternoon. Several cars stop and wait out the bovine backup.
"We've never really had anybody get mad about having to stop for the cows," Childs says. "Most people pull out their cell phones and take pictures."
It takes Childs an hour to milk the cows using a machine that suctions onto the udders. He and Bobby Prigel's 20-year-old son, Matt, share the twice-a-day milking chores.
The cows stay by the barn until a 4:45 a.m. milking the next day. They then cross back to the creamery side to spend the day grazing in the fields.
The Prigels sell 1,400 gallons of milk to Horizon Organic Milk each week. They also bottle about 170 gallons weekly at the creamery for local sales.
That still leaves plenty of milk for the two-day process that results in frozen concoctions named Bobby's Black Mud, Cappuccino Chip and Dulce de Leche.
A family affair
By 9 a.m. on a recent morning in May, several generations of Prigels are already busy with the process of making ice cream. Robert Prigel, 79, is pushing a broom along the 10,000-square-foot creamery floors. His wife, Carol, 75, stands in a workroom and puts labels on empty quart ice cream containers.
Their son, Bobby, 49, and his son-in-law, Kelvin Castillo, 26, are making a white mix to which flavors will be added. Some days, they make a chocolate mix as well.
Grunting with the weight, they unload a farm truck containing 10 plastic buckets, each holding 6.5 gallons of pale yellow milk from this morning's milking. Jersey cows don't digestbeta-carotene, so the color is passed on in their milk, Bobby Prigel says.
Before starting the creamery, the two men took a course at Penn State to learn the science of ice cream. They then came home and experimented with recipes.
"The milk is the most important ingredient," said Castillo as he poured it into a stainless steel container. "If you have good milk, you'll have a good product. That's why people love our ice cream. It all starts with our milk."
They add whipping cream, granulated sugar, nonfat powdered milk, egg yolks and stabilizer. The 130-gallon batch sits overnight and is pasteurized.
The next day, Bobby Prigel is out delivering ice cream to several Graul's Markets while Castillo works with yet another family member — Mott Connell, 17, whose grandmother was Bobby Prigel's aunt.
Their task is to add flavors to the white mix. They look like twins — each wears a white lab coat, white rubber boots and net over a Prigel Family Creamery cap. They feed the mix into a machine that homogenizes and freezes it.
The two men pour dark brown syrup into the mix for Café Latte. The Cappuccino Chip ice cream gets scoops of chocolate and toffee chips. Some ingredients, like cherries and peanut butter, are stirred in by hand.
As soon as the mix freezes into a soft-serve consistency, Castillo holds a quart container under the spigot and lets it flow.
In a blur of motion, he turns the spigot off just as the ice cream reaches the top of the container, slaps the quart onto a stainless steel table, grabs another container and repeats the process.
Connell stands at the ready, slipping cardboard tops onto the quarts and placing them in an adjacent freezer kept at minus-20 degrees. This week, the two men will churn out 500 gallons.
The Prigels hope to buy equipment to make their own yogurt and butter. But banks are hesitant to loan them money, Bobby Prigel said, until two lawsuits against them are settled.
The Long Green Community Association is fighting a 2008 ruling by Baltimore County Deputy Zoning Commission Thomas Bostwick that allowed a farmer's roadside stand on Prigels' agriculturally zoned land. He also granted Prigels' special exception request to operate a farm market.
The other lawsuit, bought by nearby farmers Susan and John Yoder, deals with Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, which purchased easements Prigels' 180 acres in 1996. The Yoders contend preserved land cannot be used for commercial purposes.
So for now, the Prigels keep churning out ice cream. Seeing kids running around outside with chocolate ice cream mustaches makes the long days worth it.
Ice cream and more
The creamery offers the standard vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, as well as flavors like chocolate almond coconut, mint chocolate chip and chocolate peanut butter.
It also sells cups, cones, milkshakes, ice cream sandwiches and cookies and milk. Family member Sarah Connell, 24, makes and delivers homemade cookies every day.
Bobby Prigel's father, Robert has a display of wooden bowls for sale that he creates from downed trees on the property.
And there are Bobby's three sisters who help stock the creamery store. Susan Opdahl and her husband, David, bring in eggs from their free-range chickens and sisters Ann Childs and Carrie Prigel provide handmade soaps.
Bobby Prigel's daughter, Mandy Castillo, 24, is in charge of event planning and has lined up Night at the Creamery, an art exhibit, music and free food on June 1 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., as well as a Local Flavor Night with live music and food on May 25, also from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Bobby's wife, Pam, will work at those events, as well as others her daughter schedules.
"We have found tremendous treasure by working together in the creamery. There are 40 family members living within a mile of here," Bobby Prigel says. "We know we lose a lot of business being closed on Sunday. But that's our family day. And family is what counts."
Prigel Family Creamery is located at 4852 Long Green Road. It is open Monday-Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. For details, call 410-510-7488 or go to http://www.prigelfamilycreamery.net.