By Jennifer Hetrick
What is today, Longacre’s Modern Dairy, along PA Route 100 in Barto, joined the Berks County scenery back in the 1920s when John S. Longacre began delivering milk to people around the area from his horse and wagon. As a schoolteacher, John knew that his income, alone, wouldn’t be enough to support his family. So he originally bought the farmland, upon a corner of which the dairy stands today, with the idea in mind to help his children with their futures.
The farm’s 30 to 40 cows were milked manually, back then, given that the technology to milk with an automated system hadn’t been invented yet.
Longacre’s sold raw milk until 1942 when pasteurization rolled into the picture. Homogenized milk came along a few years later.
Daniel E. Longacre, son to John, eventually took over the business. In 1948, ice cream swept into the operation. Daniel and his wife, Kathryn, found a small ice cream-making machine in Allentown and soon put it to good use. The first flavors available were chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry.
“They made ice cream in the evening,” said Daniel T. Longacre, who, at 74 years old, is the president of the dairy and maker of the ice cream. At the dairy, he is known as Sonny. “The people remember you for your ice cream,” Sonny reflected, with a laugh. “They don’t remember you for your milk.
Today, the dairy has around 40 flavors available, with 14 percent butterfat content in each sampling. In Pennsylvania, by law, ice cream must have at least 10 percent butterfat content in order to legally take on the name “ice cream.” Sonny said most ice cream in grocery stores has around 10 to 12 percent butterfat, but it often melts in the mouth, whereas Longacre’s ice cream carries a more involved mouth-feel to it and is a healthy challenge to maneuver per bite.
This old-fashioned ice cream, with one family producing it, is a rarity today and locally, making the dairy a place of true historical prominence and regional heritage.
But the swoon-worthy taste of the ice cream, because of the care put into it during recipe labors and mixing efforts, leads it to carry a very strong contemporary appeal to those driving up and down Route 100, too.
Sonny can make up to 75 gallons per hour in the ice cream production portion of the building. Longacre’s also prepares the specific flavor mixes for The Franklin Fountain on Market Street in Philadelphia.
About 5,000 gallons of milk of are processed per day at Longacre’s, six days a week. The dairy hasn’t housed cows since the 1970s; it, instead, bottles milk from 20 farms, mostly based in Lancaster County. Labeled under different brands for different companies, milk handled at Longacre’s travels to shelves as far as New York and Florida. The majority of it is organic.
Saving a good amount of the milk for ice cream is, of course, an important part of keeping the dessert-ready luxury available at the dairy bar.
In his early days at the dairy, Sonny began to experiment with designing new labels and testing out different styles of cups. He noticed that, every time he gave attention to these creative and thoughtful marketing efforts, ice cream sales continually bumped upward. Vanilla, vanilla fudge, and moose tracks are some of Sonny’s personal favorites. Moose tracks incorporates vanilla mingled with a dark, hard shell of chocolate and miniature peanut butter cups by Gertrude Hawk.
Sonny’s son, Danny, works with him every day in making ice cream at the dairy. Sonny’s brother Newton, 70, is the dairy’s Vice President and enjoys butter brickle, walnut, and vanilla as his own favorites. Their brother Tim, 64, handles bookkeeping and the finances, while their sister Kathryn, 62, is the secretary. Their sister, Diane, 53, works in real estate in the Reading area.
A few years ago, Sonny introduced teaberry ice cream to the lineup. An old flavor, more popular many decades ago, it didn’t sell well at first but eventually picked up in popularity and is now enthusiastically eaten by many of those who visit the dairy bar.
Egg nog, peppermint stick, pistachio, and pumpkin are seasonal flavors. Although, thankfully, for those who like pumpkin besides just in autumn months, it is now offered year-round, even though it’s considered seasonal by when pumpkins are harvested around the area.
The batch-made, slowly churned ice cream speaks for itself—its rich, poignant flavor quickly appreciated when ordered at the counter.
With grandchildren happily skipping around the dairy, Sonny and Newton said they’re hopeful that some of the young ones will want to help the dairy to remain a part of the community in future decades.