If you’re going to open an ice cream shop, now is the worst time to hear that the government is shutting down your operation.
That’s what happened to Jill Fudala, who in June expanded offerings at the Little Red Hen Farm & Homestead in Pittsfield, N.H., to include raw goat milk ice cream. The treat — which comes in cherry walnut, coffee Heath bar, black raspberry, and other flavors — had been a hit among her family and friends, especially those who are lactose intolerant.
Drivers cruising along the back roads of central New Hampshire could stop by the rough-sawn farmstand, and in exchange for $3 deposited on the honor system, leave with a 6-ounce cup of ice cream from the freezer.
“The ice cream was hands down our best-seller,” said Fudala, 39. At the height of the season, the Little Red Hen was selling upwards of 40 cups a day, a remarkable feat for a farm located off the beaten path.
But last Sunday, Fudala was alarmed to receive a letter from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, threatening to fine her unless she stopped selling ice cream. In the letter, shared by Fudala, the state’s Dairy Sanitation Program supervisor said the raw milk product runs afoul of New Hampshire law.
State law mandates that “fresh cheeses and all other processed dairy products” be made with pasteurized milk. Exemptions allow milk producers to “sell up to 20 gallons of raw milk or cream per day without being licensed . . . and to process that raw milk up to the 80-quart limit into raw ‘aged’ cheese, raw yogurt, raw butter, or raw kefir,” wrote the supervisor, Charles Metcalf.
But Fudala, who says raw milk contains bacteria that is beneficial to digestion, believes ice cream is not specifically addressed in the law.
“The words ice cream aren’t listed anywhere, so you can infer if you can or you can’t,” Fudala said Friday. “That’s the problem with inferences: It leaves a lot of gray area for interpretation.”
Fudala said that after receiving the letter she immediately removed ice cream from her freezer, but is baffled by why Metcalf allowed her to keep selling frozen yogurt. (The state says yogurt has cultures that combat the risk of food-borne illness.)
Metcalf could not be reached for comment.
Jake Leon, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, defended the order to halt ice cream sales at the Little Red Hen.
“State statute and the FDA food code prohibit using raw milk in ice cream,” he said in a statement.
What to make of one kerfuffle in a town of 4,000? The dispute flared amid lingering questions about the safety of raw milk products, which are growing in popularity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge people to consume pasteurized milk, which has been heated to kill anything detrimental. “Raw milk can contain harmful germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites,” according to the agency’s website.
State Representative James Allard said he hopes to help Fudala return to her ice cream production. Allard said he is researching and exploring whether he needs to submit a bill “to update the language to include ice cream.”
As of Friday afternoon, a few hundred people had responded to the news with words of support on the farm’s Facebook page.
For Fudala, who juggles working as a nurse full-time in the evenings, the loss of her ice cream business has put a dent in her profits. But she isn’t giving up.
“It was definitely a blow to have this happen, but if it effects change and brings the community together, that’s great,” she said. “We’ll fight the fight.’’