By Teresa Brumback
A wholesome Mom and Pop store, with a big scoop of Americana thrown in for good measure-that's the deal at Red Fox Creamery, at about the mid-way point within the Old Town mall in downtown Winchester, Virginia.
If you're picking up some stamps or dropping off packages at the U.S. Post Office next door, a visit to the ice cream shop is another must-do item on your errand list. The shop is surrounded by a host of restaurants, a Civil War museum, and stores that sell fine clothes, shoes, art, jewelry, books, and antiques-everything tucked charmingly within a several block area, along brick-laden streets.
While making and selling homemade ice cream with natural ingredients is their primary passion, owners Kathy and Brian Lewis also offer a small selection of homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches. The staples are nothing fancy, but include a respectable chili (or soup), tuna (or chicken or egg) salad sandwiches, and brownies or cookies.
Whether it's ice cream or lunch offerings, they make it clear that they don't kowtow to big corporate America or trends. As a small independent business, they are free to do their own thing. "We can kind of make our own rules," says Kathy. "Not that I hate corporate America, but I think it's taken over the retail industry and the food industry. The Moms and Pops have to take a back seat."
"Big Ice Cream" guys mass-produce their ice cream. In comparison, Red Fox makes small amounts—owing to what the Lewises claim is ultimately a higher quality product. It all starts with the butterfat. Theirs starts at eighteen percent—though sometimes it's higher. With commercial ice creams, Kathy says, she's never heard of anything higher than fourteen percent. All the rich flavor is in the butterfat. For those who want low-fat ice cream, or sugarless ice cream, this is not the place to be. The milk and cream Red Fox uses comes fresh from a local dairy— South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, Maryland—a creamery owned by several generations of one family.
Once their ingredients have been acquired, Kathy and Brian make the ice cream to their own specifications, refusing to include corn syrup in their recipe. They make it as natural as the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow—it has to be pasteurized and stabilized. Other than that, the ice cream is simply milk, sugar, cream, and egg yolks. Pure vanilla extract is used, as well, as is pure, fresh fruit from farmers' markets, when available. No imitation extracts are ever used, Kathy assures.
The ratio of cream to ice cream is high. They take two gallons of cream and make about two and three-fourths gallons of ice cream. By comparison, the standard with commercial manufactured ice cream is to take two gallons of cream and make ten gallons of ice cream, which means that more air is churned into the product.
The Lewises make their ice cream in a small batch freezer, two gallons at a time. This allows them to control the flavor, the quality of the ingredients, and to taste-test and tweak the final product. Ingredients are stirred in by hand so they don't break apart.
A popular flavor is Cinnamon Nut Crunch, when it's available. When the couple operated in Middleburg, as Middleburg Creamery, it was called Gold Cup Crunch, named after the big Gold Cup horse competition there. The dessert is loaded with almonds and pecans that are toasted in a cast-iron skillet with real butter and sugar, cinnamon, and a dash of nutmeg. The nuts are cooked until crisp, cooled, and then drenched in a cinnamon-based ice cream.
The flavors vary, with room in the freezer case for twelve flavors. The ice cream is always fresh because more is always being made to replace what's in the bins. And it doesn't stay in the bins for more than three days, according to Kathy.
Among a myriad of choices—vanilla, chocolate, mocha toffee crunch, mint chocolate chip, cookies and cream, and coconut cream—including six standbys—orange cream, lemon pie, key lime pie, peach, strawberry, blackberry, and/or other fruit when it's in season—the top seller is Mocha Toffee—chocolate, coffee, and English toffee pieces. All the fruit selections use real fruit, of course, and nut varieties include walnut, butter pecan, pecan praline, and coconut chocolate almond. All in all, Red Fox offers about thirty-five flavors—some you'll recognize, some you'll be slobbering over.
While they are always trying new recipes, they also try to respond to customer demands. One customer required something gluten-free, so they made lemon pie ice cream without graham crackers just for her. Another customer desires lavender ice cream. Kathy admits to having never attempted it, but promises to give it a whirl.
And Red Fox is also accommodating to the ‘ol wallet. A scoop sells for $2.95. A double scoop for $4.25. Milkshakes and hot fudge sundaes are $4.55 each; a pint goes for $5.50; and a quart goes for $9.50. The Lewises don't see going bigtime on their ice cream horizon. As a retired accountant, and diesel truck mechanic, respectively, Kathy says she and Brian are content doing something they love—that also supports them financially. They're also not in need of fame or fortune, or even the occasional star that strolls by. (John Travolta's wife, Kelly Preston, once stopped into their Middleburg shop and declared the Mocha Toffee Crunch the "best she had ever had anywhere in the world.")
Treat yourself next time you're in Winchester. The Old Town mall is checkered with delightful little walkins, and Red Fox Creamery, open seven days a week, sits comfortably among them. Look for the red fox logo. For more information, give them a call at 540-545-8630. A website is in the works.