Tulmeadow Farm is older than the nation, its origins dating back to 1768. The farm has raised chickens and dairy cows and sold firewood, sweet corn and greenhouse vegetables during its tenure, but its sweetest offering has been its most successful.
In 1994, the farm store in pastoral West Simsbury began making ice cream in an attempt to become more of a destination. The seasonal dessert counter was a hit and has continued to sustain the farm for more than two decades.
"Ice cream has put us on the map," said seventh-generation Tulmeadow farmer Don Tuller. "We've been here almost 250 years, but hardly anybody knew we were here until we started making ice cream."
Tulmeadow starts scooping in mid-April each year and wraps up the year around Oct. 30. During those six months, guests stand in long lines for such flavors as cookie dough, vanilla M&M, peppermint stick and cappuccino with espresso beans. It's a super-premium product, at 16 percent butterfat.
"Our whole premise was, 'If [we're] going to make ice cream, [we're] going to make really good ice cream,'" Tuller says. The milk and cream base comes from Guida's dairy, and Tuller says Tulmeadow seeks out superior additions like pure vanilla and real Oreo cookies.
"You do make decisions about the quality of your ingredients and it translates," he says. "My whole test of a good quality ice cream is: You should be able to tell what flavor you're eating with your eyes closed."
Tulmeadow makes about 54 flavors in all. Red raspberry chocolate chip, which gets its vibrant burst of berry flavor from fruit puree, is the top seller, and other classics enjoy regular space in the dipping cabinet, like cookies and cream, strawberry and mocha chip. Kahlua, Heath bar and dulce de leche are among the more indulgent options.
Ice cream is served in cones and cups ($3.29 to $5.88 plus tax; 75 cents extra for waffle cone); sundaes ($4.23 to $7.05) and as 21-ounce milkshakes ($7.29). Toppings, including various sauces, candies and cookies, are 85 cents apiece. The menu also features frozen yogurt, sherbet and shaved ice ($2.06 to $3.01) with assorted fruit-flavored syrups.
Tulmeadow Farm also sells its ice cream to restaurants and retail shops on a year-round basis, including Fitzgerald's Foods in Simsbury, Avon Prime Meats in Avon, several of the First & Last Tavern locations, Elbow Room in West Hartford and Crown & Hammer in Collinsville. Gumdrops & Lollipops, a retro diner and ice cream shop in Niantic, now stocks several Tulmeadow flavors as well.
The farm's retail business stocks plenty of the healthy stuff, too: its own greenhouse and field vegetables, including salad greens, kale, Swiss chard, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. The shelves and refrigerator cases are filled with locally produced cheeses, smoked meats, breads, candies, maple syrup and other goodies.
Tulmeadow's rural setting makes for pleasant summer trips, with many guests traveling from within a 30-minute radius for the experience. Locals often see their friends and neighbors in line, stop and visit.
"The neatest part of this whole thing, when we first started, was the atmosphere of community, and it's still the same," Tuller says.
"We want to make a quality product that people want to come back for. People tell us when family comes to visit, this is where they come. That was our whole goal, to be a destination. And certainly the ice cream has done that for us."
Tulmeadow Farm Store, 255 Farms Village Road, West Simsbury, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The ice cream window is open daily from noon to 8 p.m. 860-658-1430, tulmeadowfarmstore.com.
This summer we're telling the stories behind Connecticut's beloved seasonal restaurants — the destinations that open for an all-too-brief time period in fair weather. These are the small lobster shacks with the buttery rolls you crave in January when you're shoveling snow, the ice cream stands that throw open their windows with the first warm breeze, the beach-town eateries where the salt of fried whole belly clams and onion rings is enhanced by ocean air. Find the series throughout the summer at ctnow.com/summersweetspots.