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How a Vergennes ice cream business is growing

THANKS IN PART to a Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center grant, Vergennes scoop shop lu•lu is adding goat milk gelato to its offerings. Owner Laura Mack here presents a sample cone of Peanut Butter Goat Milk Gelato. Lu•lu is holding a launch party on Saturday with free tastings. Independent photo/Andy Kirkaldy

VERGENNES — Business has been sweet for lu•lu since the premium ice cream scoop shop opened in May 2018 in the heart of Vergennes, according to owner Laura Mack.

In part that’s because Mack has always looked for new ways to expand lu•lu’s market outreach and product lines, including by offering espresso and baked goods. 

In 2022, the 35-year-old city resident also successfully applied for a grant from the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center to fine-tune lu•lu’s marketing. Upgrades included new graphics for the pint containers in which Mack had already been marketing ice cream wholesale, and changes to the website that keys her e-commerce effort. 

That grant process indirectly resulted in lu•lu’s adding its newest product — goat milk gelato. Lu•lu will formally introduce its new creations with a launch party, with free tastings, from noon to 2 p.m. this Saturday, March 4. The shop is at 185 Main St., right at the city’s downtown traffic light.

Why goat milk gelato? Mack described the chain of events that resulted in the new lu•lu product. She previously “had an inkling” about offering it, but had not yet found the time to focus on details such as recipes, equipment purchases and marketing.

Then when lu•lu received its first Dairy Business Innovation Center grant in 2022, she had a pivotal chat with the regional nonprofit’s representatives. It turned out the center was looking for more ways to support goat milk farmers, and brought up the topic to Mack. 

“They came and did a site visit and said, ‘Have you ever thought about making goat or sheep milk ice cream?’ And I was like, ‘It’s really funny you should say that. It’s always been in the back of my mind. Why do you ask?’” Mack recounted.

That’s when she learned about the $30,000 grant to expand into goat milk gelato that lu•lu soon earned. The funding gave Mack and her staff time to fine-tune recipes, reach out to potential farm partners, purchase equipment to pasteurize goat milk (lu•lu pasteurizes its goat milk and re-pasteurizes its cows’ milk onsite) and develop a sales plan.

Mack said the Business Innovation Center grants boost both farmers and shops in the region who sell value-added products. 

“It is incredibly helpful,” she said. “The Northeast Dairy Innovation Fund really helps in these small pockets like (in) Vermont and New York, Rhode Island. It’s a really cool entity which allows us to increase our purchase, which then gives the farmers more work and so they get more cash.”

Like lu•lu’s ice cream, which is made with Monument Farms Milk and Maple Meadows Farm eggs, as well as products from Charlotte’s Sweet Roots farm, its goat milk gelato qualifies as almost wholly Vermont-made. 

For its gelato, lu•lu substitutes goat milk from Huntington’s Midnight Goat Farm, owned by Yves Gonnet, all of whose production the store is now buying. She is in talks with an Addison County goat farmer for more supply.

In some flavors, such as Chocolate Hazelnut, lu•lu also uses a variety of nut butters from a Colchester firm to add richness. Vermont Peanut Butter Co. contributes a main ingredient to another goat milk gelato flavor

Only the organic sugar delivered to lu•lu doesn’t have a Vermont source or producer, and Mack emphasizes that all the ice cream and gelato flavors are made from scratch.

Because lu•lu pasteurizes all its milk onsite, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture considers lu•lu an official milk handler, and an agency inspector shows up quarterly. 

“It’s really a unique thing we do,” Mack said.

Thus, she expects officials from the agency as well as the Northeast Dairy Innovation Center — plus Gonnet and local legislators — to show up for Saturday’s gelato launch party.

In all, Mack but said things have gone well since lu•lu opened in May 2018. She now employs one person fulltime, between four and 14 more part-time depending on the season, and is looking to add a second fulltime worker. She is grateful that the community has supported lu•lu, and said she believes it is largely because of product quality.

“We’re really lucky that people love what we create, and we get to make ice cream every day and make people happy,” Mack said.

GOAT MILK GELATO

And she believes that quality extends to the goat milk gelato, which she said not only can stand on its own as a lower-calorie, but still flavorful, alternative, to lu•lu’s ice cream, but is also a more friendly product to those who are lactose intolerant. 

Goat milk lactose is kinder to that segment of the population, and thus could create a new niche for lu•lu. 

“It’s approachable for those who can’t process lactose as well,” Mack said.

Because goat milk is lower in fat than cows’ milk, lu•lu has been focusing on flavorings that, like peanut butter, add a bit of smoothness and texture. Other flavors already in her stand-up freezer in the shop are Chocolate and Chocolate Hazelnut, and she is tinkering with avocado, olive oil and other nut spreads as flavor bases. 

She added she believes goat’s milk gelato is “closer to an ice cream experience” than sorbet, making it “really approachable. I’m happy to add there is no ‘goaty’ flavor at all.” (A taste of lu•lu’s Peanut Butter Goat Milk Gelato supported her claim, at least in one opinion.)

It is also a bit lower in calories than ice cream.

“It’s basically a health food,” Mack joked. “You have to lift your hand up, so it’s actually exercise.” 

Mack said other early feedback has been positive: “We’ve been teasing it in the shop, and it’s had a phenomenal response.”

OK, but why the name “lu•lu”? It turns out it’s a real word, at least in old-fashioned slang. 

“It’s actually a word in the dictionary that means something outstanding or remarkable,” Mack said. “So you’re actually eating something awesome.”

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center.

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