A hand holds ice cream in front of a lake view

Taste of the TSW with Jeff Bray: Kawartha Dairy

Jeff Bray is the co-founder and festival director of the award-winning Cultivate Festival in Northumberland County. He’s also an instructor at Centennial College, where he teaches about food tourism, a former restauranteur, and a previous contributing writer to Watershed Magazine. We asked Jeff to give us his thoughts on a few of the unique Taste of the Trent-Severn products developed by businesses around Kawarthas Northumberland.

My kids remind me all the time there’s always room for ice cream, and Kawartha Dairy has proven just that. Since the 1950s they have been pumping out really good ice cream! But it’s more than that. It’s a cottage country tradition. 

Kawartha Dairy is located just a few minutes’ walk from Lock 32 and the hustle and bustle of Downtown Bobcaygeon. This is where it all began, way back in 1937, when Jack and Isla Crowe got things started and committed to serving high-quality dairy products to the community they called home.

In the early days, they used ice carved from the Trent Severn Waterway to keep the milk chilled! How cool. There was a period of time when they delivered to residences by horse, and to cottages along the TSW by boat. Kawartha Dairy started making ice cream in the mid-50s after Jack took some time away to learn the craft. Today, ice cream is the heart of the business. It’s the method that Jack brought home that remains the reason for all this success. It’s all about fresh milk and cream from Ontario farmers, delivered every day.

While this is the history of Kawartha Dairy ice cream, it’s also the present. 

On their website they say that 90% of the milk they use comes from within 100km, which is really remarkable considering how much ice cream they produce!

Over 85 years later, Kawartha Dairy is still family owned and operated, with second and third generation Crowe’s still playing a role. Jack and Isla’s house still stands right next door. 

And while they are no longer using ice blocks to chill products, and horse and boat deliveries are a thing of the past, the commitment to the community has remained at the core for generations and their unwavering dedication to quality and customer service is why they are standing strong over 85 years later. 

When speaking to some staff, it was consistently reiterated that it’s all about treating their customers like family, and doing their part to contribute to family memories. I felt it myself! Here I was, my first time visiting, and I felt like I could pull up a chair and chat for hours with any one of the staff I met along the way. A quick look at all the customers I saw throughout the day, and it seemed like everybody feels the same way. So many happy faces, so much positive energy. We need more of this in our lives. 

Some of my fondest childhood memories come from going out for ice cream. It’s a weird thing to say, but I loved the long line ups. It was almost necessary. You needed the time to make a decision! You could feel the excitement grow inside you, and I can see that happening here too. There is no doubt that Kawartha Dairy holds a special place in many people’s memories. This is more than ice cream. This is tradition. I wanted to go straight home to get my family so we could build these memories together. 

Part of what I loved about the lineups was looking through all the different flavours. It was so hard to choose, but so much fun. I was lucky during my visit – I didn’t have to decide on one of forty five flavours(!). I was here for a reason – to taste the Banana Boat on the Trent-Severn. 

Described as a  “tide of marshmallow and chocolate flowing through banana-flavoured ice cream,” it’s a play on a campfire classic, but not one I was familiar with. For most of us, the treat that comes to mind when sitting around the fire is always S’mores. But when I started asking around, it became clear to me that the Banana Boat is a real tradition, and one that I needed to know more about. 

As it turns out, there are many ways to make a Banana Boat, but what matters most is that you take a banana, cut it down the middle on one side, peel it open on one side (keeping the peel on) and add your favourite ingredients, like, say, marshmallows and chocolate. You wrap that up in some tin foil and roast it over an open fire until it’s all nice and ooey gooey! Count me in! Now, imagine this as an ice cream! Count me in again! That’s what I’m here for, and I’m one lucky guy. 

I’m also a bit of an ice cream snob—I need it rich and creamy. Anything less is uncivilized. Kawartha Dairy hits the nail on the head. It’s so darn good because of their commitment to fresh milk and cream. I was blissed out at first lick and could see the same thing on the faces around me. 

I took my double scoop and headed for a walk along the Bobcaygeon River. I felt like summer personified. 

It’s clear as a beautiful Bobcaygeon day that Kawartha Dairy is an institution. They serve a community of loyal customers year round and thousands and thousands of Bobcaygeon tourists, either jumping off their boat, or headed into town from a nearby cottage. They’ve become, in my mind, the official ice cream of Cottage Country, offering ice cream (and other dairy products) by the tub and scoop at 10 different retail locations from Bancroft to Newmarket to Huntsville as well as across hundreds of grocers and convenience stores across Ontario. While that is handy for many, it’s Bobcaygeon where the history, tradition and commitment to quality and community shine so brightly. This is exactly where I want to be eating this ice cream. 

As I looked out over the water, I could imagine the old delivery boats ripping by, and children running to the docks with glee to grab the ice cream. 

Right in front of my eyes, though, Kawartha Dairy was actually everywhere! Folks at every turn, walking around, smiling, slurping up their cones in a race against the sun. Regulars and locals, in and out of the shop, non stop, everybody referring to each other by name. I could see boaters, docked in Downtown Bobcaygeon, making the short trek with the family for a few scoops or grabbing a tub to take back to the cottage. Kawartha Dairy is the lifeblood of cottage country! 

I found myself imagining these folks building new traditions over old fire pits, prepping the original Banana Boats but serving them à la mode with fresh Kawartha Dairy ice cream. History and tradition colliding! Even after a freshly finished two scoop cone, I wanted to try this with my family. After all, there’s always room for ice cream, and it’s clear here in Bobcaygeon, there’s always time for tradition. 

Read more of Jeff’s adventures along the Trent-Severn Waterway here

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