At a small ice cream shop in Marianna, owner Dale Eade makes the first pot of morning coffee as he sets up chairs and opens umbrellas outside.
A couple—locals and regulars—stop in early to Southern Craft Creamery. They stand in front of the ice cream case as Dale describes the seasonal flavors of the day: sweet corn and blackberry, and a new vanilla porter.
They try samples before the woman settles on her usual, blackberry buttermilk ice cream with chocolate syrup. Since it’s morning, her husband orders an affogato—an espresso poured over ice cream. The most popular combination is espresso with butterscotch ice cream.
While Dale and his wife and co-owner, Cindy, didn’t start out to make ice cream, it is clearly a labor of love.
It all started on their farm.
“Dale and I have been milking cows since we were married,” Cindy says. “I was teaching, and Dale was working for a large family farm in Monticello. After 15 years, that family wanted to retire, and as minority owners, we had to decide what we were going to do.
“Having grown up in this area, we knew we wanted to stay in the dairy business, and this was as far west as we could go and stay in the same milk marketing co-op.”
With their two daughters, Lauren and Meghan, the Eade family worked their way from being part owners to leasing and buying farmland in the area, then buying the farm where they are today.
Their family business, Cindale Farms, is a working dairy with more than 300 milking cows and 500 acres.
“We had been here in the community and people knew us,” Cindy says. “We’ve always believed if you are going to be in a community, be involved in the community. We open our farm to tours and support local events and our neighbors.”
As adults and children toured their farm, Cindy and Dale saw that many visitors had lost an understanding of where their food comes from. They really didn’t know that milk came from cows, not the grocery store.
“What we are seeing is that most people are two generations or more removed from the family farm,” Dale says. “We really wanted to help make that connection, to help people learn more about agriculture and where their food comes from.”
Their youngest daughter, Lauren, had moved away and was traveling, selling wine for a family winery around Georgia and the Carolinas. The family had always enjoyed discovering new foods and eating at mom-and-pop shops. Lauren invited her parents to see what other farms and makers were doing around the South.
The visit stirred up ideas about ways they could do something to make the farm-to-table connection from their dairy business. In 2011, Cindy and Dale proposed the idea to Lauren and her husband, Zach, to move back to Marianna and start an ice cream venture.
It was good timing. All of them jumped right in and went to ice cream school.
Lauren and Zach went to the University of Wisconsin short course, and Lauren and Cindy attended a weeklong Penn State University course. These world-renowned programs attract people from across the world to learn how to make ice cream.
“You learn so much and taste a lot of ice cream,” Cindy says. “These classes catered to the big guys who use a continuous freeze process, making thousands of gallons. To do that, we learned that most of the ice cream uses gums, which help large batches freeze together. But it also acts as a natural laxative. We didn’t want to put a lot of additives in our ice cream. What we wanted to create is a natural ice cream with our milk off the farm to shine through.”
The instructors thought a small-batch process would be too labor-intensive and not profitable. But Lauren and Zach persevered. They spent about a year working to make a natural ice cream in small batches the way they wanted.
After a lot of trial and error that tasted good but had the consistency of butter, they discovered their perfect base recipe. To create the perfect ice cream, they start with milk, sugar and cream, and add a natural gelatin, which acts as a stabilizer and homogenizer.
They started playing with flavors, beginning with some classics. Their strawberry uses fresh fruit from a local grower. Chocolate is made with French Broad chocolate from Asheville.
Other signature flavors are dark chocolate, salty chocolate, salty caramel, Amavida coffee and bay laurel (bay leaves steeped in sweet cream). They now have 75 distinct flavors, although only a select number are available at a time, depending on what is in season.
The ice cream was first sold to wholesalers, local mom-and-pop restaurants and stores around the Marianna area. Word spread and the deliveries expanded.
Cindy and Dale make the deliveries and stock the shelves. They like to meet and talk with shop owners and customers.
The ice cream shop opened in Marianna in 2018, allowing the family to share its ice cream and teach more people about fresh, natural ingredients.
Not just locals love their gourmet flavors. Southern Craft Creamery won Garden and Gun magazine’s prestigious “Made in the South” award, named “Overall Winner” in 2013.
Hands-on and handmade, everything about Southern Craft Creamery is a connection to real food.
“We wanted our shop to be a community spot and a chance to share where food comes from,” Dale says. “We have had numerous opportunities to open in more lucrative areas. We’ve stayed here. If you can’t do it at home and take care of the people who take care of you, why do it anywhere else.”
Southern Craft Creamery ice cream is available at several small, local restaurants and shops around Florida, from Pensacola to Orlando. To see where you can find the gourmet ice cream, visit www.southerncraftcreamery.com. To visit the shop in Marianna, where you will be encouraged to try as many samples as you would like, stop by 2884 Jefferson St.