Blue Bell Creamery
Blue Bell Creamery is located about 60 miles northeast of Houston in the town of Brenham, TX. Margery found out they had tours, but it was almost two hours from where we were staying in Dickinson, TX, so we weren't sure we wanted to go that far.
Margery recently made contact with a
couple who were old high school friends who are now married and live in the northeastern Houston
suburb of Tomball. When they heard we were coming to the Houston area,
they invited us to dinner. Since they lived north of the city, we decided visiting the creamery earlier in the afternoon would put us on the northern side of Houston so we wouldn't have to drive through rush hour traffic to visit Margery's friends for dinner. You might have noticed we have an aversion to rush hour traffic, one of the perks of retirement.
Blue Bell Creamery started in 1907 when a group of farmers started Brenham Creamery Co. to make butter from cream brought in by local farmers. A few years later, they started making ice cream and delivered it to local residents by horse and wagon. In the early days, they only made a couple of gallons a day.
In 1930, the company name was changed to Blue Bell Creamery in honor of the Texas wildflower, the bluebell (not the blue bonnet). Today, Blue Bell ice cream is the third best-selling ice cream in the country behind Breyer's and Dryer's.
The headquarters for the creamery is located on the outskirts on the small town of Brenham. It was fairly crowded for a weekday, so we went inside and signed up for the next available tour. We had a little over half an hour to wait for our 2:15 tour, so we looked around the gift shop and the garden outside the building. The photo below shows Margery outside the gift shop.
The offices are behind the gift shop and the factory, shown in the next photo, is to the right.
Blue Bell has several other factories including one that makes ice cream novelties at the site of the original creamery in downtown Brenham.
There is a nice little garden area with a few benches and some bronze statues. The one in the photo below with the little girl leading a cow is part of their logo and appears on most of their packaging.
In 1919, the company was in financial trouble, and the board of directors hired E. F. Kruse to take over the company. Kruse, who turned the company around, is honored along with his two sons, Ed and Howard, with a statue in the garden. One of the things Kruse did was to abandon making butter and concentrate on ice cream.
On our way in for the tour, we just had time for Paul to stop and check out the creamery's first refrigerated ice cream truck outside the visitor center. The creamery still ships all its products by company-owned trucks with company employees driving them. They do not use commercial carriers because they want to have complete control to be sure the customer receives a quality product.
As with most factories, photography wasn't allowed in the plant. We saw the pasteurization machines where the milk is heated to a temperature just below boiling for a short period, then it is rapidly chilled. We saw the homogenization machines that pump the milk through narrow tubes at high pressure to break up fat globules to keep the cream from separating. We also learned it takes the milk from 50,000 cows every day to keep the plant in operation.
Milk is blended with sugar, corn syrup, flavorings and fresh fruit (we saw buckets of fresh strawberries being added), and is then frozen in a continuous process. The soft ice cream is delivered to machines that automatically fill the cartons. Lids are automatically sorted and placed on the cartons. The cartons then go to the freezer to harden the ice cream at -30 degrees. Blue Bell also bakes its own chocolate wafers for ice cream sandwiches, and the sandwiches are also assembled and wrapped automatically at this plant.
The factory was just starting to shut equipment down as they do every day around 2:30 PM for their clean up. They disassemble all the equipment, clean and sanitize it. If you're planning to go to Blue Bell for a tour, try to avoid the last tour of the day at 2:30 because some, if not most, of the ice cream making equipment may already be shut down.
There is a charge of $5 per person for the tours ($3 for children and seniors), but they give everybody a full scoop of ice cream as a sample at the end of the tour. In case you want to try other flavors, additional scoops only cost $1.
After we finished our ice cream sample, we had plenty of time to drive east to Tomball for our dinner visit with Margery's high school friends. We had a good time catching up on family, kids and everything else that has gone on over the years. It was a long drive back to the motor home, but it certainly was late enough that we missed rush hour. There was, however, still plenty of traffic around Houston for 10:00 at night.
After a good night's rest, we were ready for another busy day. We have more Texas history to tell you about in our next post.