By Katie Gatlin
A Fentons Creamery tour offers plenty of retro charm. With the happy cow mascot, daily-churned ice creams (20 kinds behind a bright glass case), sunshiny families celebrating birthdays, and couples sharing high-piled sundaes, I feel like I’m on a set for Grease or The Music Man.
Founded in 1894, Fentons is an institution in Oakland’s Piedmont neighborhood. Pointing to historical photos on the walls, our tour guide explains that Fentons began as a dairy company making milk, cream, and cheese. They expanded to ice-cream making in 1922 with the frosty genius of Melvin Fenton, the founder’s grandson. Melvin is credited for inventing the iconic chocolate, marshmallow, and almond flavor Rocky Road, as well as Swiss Milk Chocolate and Toasted Almond. In addition to 37 ice cream standards and 18 seasonal flavors, the restaurant offers shakes, malts, floats, sundaes, and diner classics like burgers and sandwiches.
In the kitchen, we meet ice-cream maker Miguel, who has been with the creamery for over 20 years. The ice cream is made in small batches that take just five days to get from the farm to your spoon. Donning our soda jerk hats, we watch the vanilla ice cream flow out of the giant mixer and into the tub where Miguel layers in plenty of Oreos to create the cookies and cream flavor. We sample it right out of the tub. I ask Miguel what his favorite summertime flavor is, and he says without hesitation, “The mango.”
Fentons currently sources most of their milk, cream, and cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company and Crystal Creamery in Modesto, but they hope to eventually source all the cream from Happy Pastures, their farmland in Point Reyes Station.
After a brisk walk through the blast chiller, we taste six flavors. My tour-mates all head back to work on this busy Monday, and I am left alone with a table full of ice cream. The winner: Toasted Almond.
On July 17, Fentons celebrates National Ice Cream Day and its 122nd year in business with $1.22 Black & Tan Junior Sundaes. An event in the Fentons parking lot features ice cream sampling, face painting, crafts, and a DJ.
Fentons Arctic tours are available on Sundays with a reservation. Tour info: https://www.fentonscreamery.com/arctic_tour_info.pdf
National Ice Cream Day at Fentons Creamery
Sunday July 17, noon–3pm
4226 Piedmont Ave, Oakland; parking lot