Izzy's Ice Cream Goes Local

In an ideal world, the owners of Izzy’s Ice Cream Café, Jeff Sommers and Lara Hammel, say their ice cream would be derived from milk produced by cows at a dairy all their own. Instead, though, they’ve settled on the next best thing. 

Last year, Sommers and Hammel decided to turn to a Columbus, Wis.-based dairy for the mixture of milk, eggs and sugar that serves as the building block for each of the more than 125 flavors they make at their St. Paul shop annually. The move came after a decade of relying on large wholesalers who simultaneously supplied ice cream giants such as Dairy Queen and Culvers, and was prompted by a desire to support a regional, family farm. 

Speaking recently at the Marshall Avenue ice cream ship, Sommers said the change also means the business will be cushioned from the fluctuations of the commodity market, and that they could potentially produce organic offerings for the first time. 

The dairy Izzy’s is using, Sassy Cow Creamery, raises cows traditionally and organically. The difference is in whether the animal is raised on a pasture that is chemically treated or not, but regardless of the method, Sassy Cow does insure that their milk and cream is hormone free.

“The only way we can do what we do well, which is make ice cream, is to have good ingredients,” Sommers said as milk crates of Sassy Cow Creamery mix were being offloaded into the shop’s kitchen. 

The transition hasn’t been entirely seamless, though. Sommers said that delivery structure has become more complex, and that the recipes have had to be modified to accommodate the new mix. Temperatures in Wisconsin, and what feed the animals get, can also introduce more variable into the end product – such as the level of butter fat – than traditionally sourced milk. 

“It’s certainly not easier,” Sommers said. “It takes a level of commitment.”

Shannon Leach pours ice cream mix into an ice cream maker at Izzy's Ice Cream CafeShannon Leach pours ice cream mix into an ice cream maker at Izzy's Ice Cream Cafe

The move to a regional provider is in line with other elements of the business, though. The shop has tried to support local, family producers wherever possible: organic eggs come from Minnesota, for example, and the Birchwood Café supplies the shop with coffee and key lime pie for some of their flavors. 

“If it’s not local than it’s family owned, and then it’s only because it’s not made here or the best doesn’t come from here,” Sommers said. 

Sommers said that although there is a “fresher sensibility” to the finished product, he has heard little to nothing about the switch from customers, and that he hasn’t promoted the change aggressively. “What we’re trying to do is make the exact same product,” he said. “Our goal is for the customer to have no perception of change.”

The shift may be harder to disguise if another of Sommer’s visions comes to fruition, however. Like he and Hammel did last year, Sommers would like customers and employees to someday have the chance to visit the Sassy Cow Creamery to see the operation that is now relied upon to make flavors like Norwegian Chai and Mexican Chocolate Fiesta. 

You can try to discern the difference for yourself and its ok if it takes more than one taste. Izzy's Ice Cream can be found at these locations: Izzy's Ice Cream Cafe, Birchwood Cafe, Bread and Pickle, Mississippi Market, and Linden Hills Coop.

Drew Kerr is new transplant to Minneapolis who comes to the Twin Cities by way of upstate New York. He's a Midwesterner at heart, having grown up and gone to school in Iowa. His interests are sustainable agriculture and building a stronger connection between farm and fork. Feel free to e-mail him thoughts, ideas and suggestions at and to explore his website,