SKOWHEGAN — Four in a row.

That’s how many years Gifford’s Ice Cream has won a top ice cream award in the World Dairy Expo dairy products contest.

Gifford’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream was named the 2013 ice cream grand champion, edging out competitors from around the country, according to Janet Keller, World Dairy Expo communications and public relations manager.

The judging for the contest, which also covers cheese, milk and numerous other dairy products was done in August. The expo is in Madison, Wis., Oct. 15.

It is the second year in a row Vanilla Bean has won the honor.

“It was proof that all of our hard work and dedication to our product is working,” said Lindsay Skilling, of Gifford’s, a fifth-generation ice cream maker.

Three other Gifford’s Ice Cream flavors also won awards in this year’s competition sponsored by the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association. French vanilla and orange sherbet won first place in their flavor categories and Gifford’s chocolate came in second, according to the expo website.

Gifford’s World’s Best Chocolate Ice Cream was the top choclate ice cream in 2011 and 2010.

Skilling said Gifford’s ice cream is popular because it is made the old-fashioned way at the company plant on Hathaway Street.

Gifford workers use 1940s Cherry Burrell freezers, which slow churn the ice cream, making it smoother and creamier with fewer ice crystals, Skilling said.

“That’s the only way we know how to make ice cream,” she said.

The company also uses a special hardening system, which freezes the product faster, further eliminating the formation of ice crystals in the ice cream, Skilling said.

Gifford’s, which uses locally produced milk, was established in 1971 by Audrey and Randall Gifford, Lindsay’s grandparents. Today the Skowhegan plant employs 35 people, producing an estimated 1.7 million gallons of ice cream a year, Skilling said. In the summer, when the company’s five ice cream stands are open, the number of employees increases to about 100.

The annual World Dairy Expo is the only national contest in North America to include all dairy products in categories ranging from ice cream to milk and cheese. This year’s contest included a record 820 entries and were judged  Aug.13–15, according to a release from Front Burner public relations in Boston.

Ice cream submissions to the expo are reviewed by dairy science professionals in a blind taste test, based on flavor, body and texture, melting quality, color and appearance, according to the World Dairy Expo web site.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
dharlow@mainetoday.com