No matter who you ask, the month of July usually means freedom and fireworks.

But were you aware that July is officially National Ice Cream Month?

Indeed, you read that correctly. And with that knowledge, July just got better in my book!

Being a lover of all things summer, I am an ice cream junkie. I actually mark my calendar with the opening dates of my favorite dairy joints so I don’t miss out.

If you know me you know I may not be willing to drive across town to eat out, but I will absolutely drive a couple hours to procure some tasty ice cream treats. I have even been known to sit in my car on a cold sunny day with the heat cranked so I can enjoy an ice cream cone while I look at the snow on the ground.

So, the news that July was THE month to celebrate ice cream led me to create an ice cream trail adventure map and go on a dollop a day tour. And it has been delicious!

My plan of action started with a compiled list of my favorite area ice cream stops plotted out on a driving map with an hour radius around Richland County.

Initially, my intention was to review my favorite flavors from each place, but soon decided to include a dollop or two review from places I had not yet been to. By the time I was traveling the trail and enjoying some mouthwatering ice creams, I figured it would be interesting to highlight a shop’s fan favorite flavor or specialty signature item.

But before I take you on the tasty road trip, let’s take a glimpse at a brief history of ice cream.

Ice cream in one form or another as a tasty cold treat has been around since 500 A.D., but the product that we as Americans know today, only became popular after the capability of cheap refrigeration became common.

Once this happened, there was an explosion of ice cream stores, flavors and types.

Companies often competed on the basis of variety: Howard Johnson’s restaurants advertised “a world of 28 flavors,” and Baskin-Robbins made its 31 flavors (“one for every day of the month”) the cornerstone of its marketing strategy (the company now boasts that it has developed over 1,000 varieties).

One important development in the 20th century was the introduction of soft ice cream, which has more air mixed in. Chain ice cream shops such as Dairy Queen and Tastee-Freez helped popularize soft-serve ice cream. Baskin-Robbins would later incorporate it into its menu.

Locally, in Mansfield and Richland County, there was the Isaly Dairy Company. Owner William Isaly created the original Klondike Bar in 1922, 20 years after opening the Mansfield Pure Milk Company. For the first couple of years he sold milk from his own cows. Shortly after he was selling ice cream … four flavors only, but soon the company grew.

Like the Klondike Bar, Isaly’s would also become known for its “Skyscraper” cones. Ice cream cones were a relatively new innovation at the time, so to help sales he tried out an idea that would become the company trademark: Give customers more for their money.

Isaly doubled the size of his cones from two ounces to four, and sure enough business more than doubled.

Reports in the local paper stated that in just one day in 1912, Isaly sold 7,600 ice cream cones in Mansfield alone.

The 1980s saw thicker ice creams being sold as “premium” and “super-premium” varieties under brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Company and Häagen-Dazs. Today, there are even more varieties and flavors than before, especially with the increased awareness of lactose issues for many.

It was the Quaker colonists who actually introduced ice cream and their recipes to the United States.

Confectioners sold ice cream at their shops during the colonial era. History recounts that Ben Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to have regularly eaten and served ice cream.

Records, kept by a merchant from Catham Street, New York, show Washington spending approximately $200 on ice cream in the summer of 1790. The same records show president Thomas Jefferson having an 18-step recipe for ice cream. First Lady Dolley Madison, served ice cream at her husband’s (President James Madison) Inaugural Ball in 1813.

Small-scale hand-cranked ice cream freezers were invented in England by Agnes Marshall and in America by Nancy Johnson in the 1840s. And the first mention of the cone being used as an edible receptacle for the ice cream is in Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Book of Cookery of 1888.

Agness Marshall’s recipe for “Cornet with Cream” said that “the cornets were made with almonds and baked in the oven, not pressed between irons.” The ice cream cone was popularized in America at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.

After reading about Mrs. A.B. Marshall and her cornet with cream, she immediately became one of my heroes!

As luck would have it, I found that Stela’s Ice Cream Shoppe and Coffee in downtown Loudonville, makes their waffle cones daily. I rung up my daughter, informing her of the marvelous news and asking her to join me for a day on the ice cream trail.

We arrived shortly after 11 a.m. The bell above the heavy glass door rang and we stepped into a strong scent of waffles. The ice cream shop is reminiscent of old Victorian style parlors with heavy wood counters and small ice cream tables with wrought-iron chairs.

We were informed that the waffles are made much like you would guess — batter cooked on a griddle, but thin like a tortilla. Once golden brown, they are wrapped onto a tool to mold them into either a bowl or cone shape.

After setting up, the soft golden wafers gather an ever-so-slight crunch, while maintaining a fresh softness about them.

Stela’s waffle cones have just the right amount of everything … flavor, freshness and fandom. According to Stela’s, their cones are their claim to fame and it’s never a good thing to run short on cones.

We tried one of the top three customer picks, Coffee & Donuts, which is a creamy delight of vanilla swirled ice cream and coffee with bits of donuts. And, we put it in a waffle bowl then sat on the sidewalk enjoying all the goodness melt away on our tongues.

The two other customer favorites are Salty Caramel and White Lightning, the latter which is dark chocolate ice cream with slivers of refreshing mint.

From Stela’s we drove to Utica where the Velvet Ice Cream factory and Ye Olde Mill are located. The story of Velvet Ice Cream and its founder, the Joseph Dager family, as well as ice cream artifacts that revolutionized the industry can all be found in Ye Olde Mill.

Velvet Ice Cream currently distributes more than 5 million gallons of ice cream each year. It welcomes more than 150,000 visitors to the Ye Olde Mill (company headquarters) annually. It is currently in the fourth generation of owner/operators descending from Mr. Dager.

The first gallon of hand-cranked vanilla ice cream was made by Dager in 1914 in the basement of a confectionery. Three flavors were concocted: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. By 1916, Velvet Ice Cream produced 200 gallons of ice cream a month. The creamy, velvety texture of Mr. Dager’s tasty cold treat inspired its name of Velvet Ice Cream.

When we arrived at Ye Olde Mill and saw the grist mill rolling in the shining sun and the ducks waddling along the pond, we were glad to have added it to the map.

When you step inside the Mill it feels like a fancy buffet. There are several long ice cream display cases showing off nearly 30 different flavors. On the wall behind are menu boards telling you what sizes and combinations each flavor can be served.

Overwhelmed, with the line behind us mounting, we decided to try their sample scoops they call their five flavor flight: Banana Cream Pie, White Chocolate Raspberry, Summertime Peach, Kentucky Praline Pecan and Pure Cinnamon.

The first (Banana Cream Pie) and last (Pure Cinnamon) were our favorites, though each had that signature Velvety smoothness and bold flavor without tasting artificial. The Banana Cream pie was remarkable, but would have been better in a cone because the flavor is so real your brain makes you question, “where’s my wafers?”

As for the Pure Cinnamon, well let’s say it is like eating cinnamon toast made over the campfire. It is so delectably delicious you will wake up the following day and consider going camping!

We pulled out of Utica, all sugar cravings satisfied, but decided to head to one last stop. My daughter chose Paul’s Drive-In in Shelby. Serving ice cream and great dairy stand foods with a smile since 1956, Paul’s is a community icon that used to be well known for the double headed ice cream cone.

Unfortunately, like many other changes that have occurred over the past two years, they no longer serve the novelty cone. But after inspecting their ice cream case, we quickly found another cold tasty treat to share. This time we chose a light, tangy rainbow sherbet cup, which topped off the coney dogs and onion rings perfectly!

The next stop on my ice cream shop trail was a few days later to JB’s Drive-In in Lexington. Another community fixture for almost 50 years, JB’s is still a family-owned business. I must admit, this was my first visit.

Jon went with me, commenting that it’s one his favorite dairy stands too. True to his taste buds, he ordered a fresh banana and peanut butter shake that he had to spoon out the final banana morsels with a spoon. Oh how scrumptious it was.

I chose a mango flavored dole whip in a cone and I savored every drop. Very fluffy (as it should be seeing that it is a whip) and full-flavored, every spoonful just melted gently on the tongue leaving nothing but a smile on your face.

At 7:30 p.m., the place had roughly 30 people, some wanting fair foods and some, ice cream treats.

Sitting there watching everyone and enjoying a nice breeze as the sun was setting, that mango whip sure tasted like the best part of summer.

Other great stops I have marked on my ice cream trail include: Kelly’s Dairy Bar in Mansfield, Mifflin Dairy Bar near Charles Mill Lake, Big Fish Bait Shop near Pleasant Hill Campgrounds, Clear Fork Dairy Belle in Bellville, Ida’s Dairy in Butler and the Olivesburg General Store in Ashland.

Before sitting down to write this article, I made one last drive, this time to visit the Hartzler Dairy Farm in Wooster. An embodiment of uniqueness, Hartzler’s is a family farm started in the 1950s, who’s cows are pasture-fed and not given artificial hormones. The result is a richer, healthier and creamier milk and all the products made from that milk.

In 1996 the storefront opened with gifts, hot foods, fresh milk and cheeses and ice creams. The ice cream flavors are concocted in house. Like the milk, the ice cream is very creamy, fresh and strongly favorable.

Hartzler’s boasts more than 50 flavors and one can purchase pints and quarts to take home.

Hartzler’s fan favorite is the Heifer Trails which is their own version of a Recee’s Cup. I decided to try another popular flavor, Coconut Almond Fudge, and I was not remiss for having passed on the Heifer Trails this time.

Ever-so-thin slivers of coconuts and almonds blended in thick, rich vanilla and embedded with small morsels of chocolate — it was like an Almond Joy was shoved into my cone.

The freshness of Hartzler’s ice cream makes it imperative one eats it without much doodling so that it does not melt faster than you can reach the top of the cone. The flavor, however, will last a long time after the ice cream has vanished.

But don’t just take it from me, if you are looking for a bit of summer fun that isn’t expensive or requires much of anything but to jump up and go, then try an ice cream trail this month in honor of National Ice Cream month. Your tastebuds will love you again!

The Life section is supported by Brethren Care Village in Ashland.

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