Cougar Tracks with fudge swirls and peanut butter cups. Apple Cup Crisp with caramel and oatmeal cookies. Any one of sixteen classic flavors sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies in a Grabber. Cougar Gold sharp cheddar and other flavorful cheeses.

It’s no wonder Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe at the Washington State University Creamery enjoys a cult-like following. Sweet or savory, its offerings are rich and creamy, decadent and dreamy.

Cougs can’t get enough. And others are catching on. In fact, in January, Bon Appétit featured WSU’s signature canned cheese in its “Highly Recommend” column, calling Cougar Gold “absolutely incredible.” The recommendation led to what WSU Creamery manager John Haugen (’93 Civ. Eng.) calls “the most significant (sales) bump I’ve ever seen.”

Normally, “Three days during holiday season might have 1,500 orders,” Haugen says. “We ended up with about 3,000 orders over the three‑day weekend” following the review. Web traffic “tapered off after that, but our orders remained higher than normal for that time of year for a couple of weeks. Pretty amazing!”

At the same time, the persisting pandemic has impacted sales of WSU‑made dairy products. Without large in‑person events such as football games, demand for ice cream dwindled.

Cheese production took a hit, too. The plan had been to ramp up weekly output from seven to eight batches, yielding about 800 cans each. When the COVID‑19 crisis struck, the creamery reduced production to one batch per day five days per week for months.

But Cougs are still going for the Gold, especially around the holidays. WSU Creamery typically sells two‑thirds of its cheese in the last third of the year. Cougar Gold is its top seller. Cheddar and Smoky Cheddar tie for second. Crimson Fire! comes in third.

Cougar Gold

2019

  • 189,762 cans produced
  • 152,897 cans sold (that’s every single can of Cougar Gold made in 2018)

2020

  • 191,320 cans produced
  • 185,654 cans sold

All Cheese

2019

  • 260,384 cans

2020

  • 252,258 cans

I scream, you scream

You know the rest. WSU Creamery has 16 standard flavors as well as limited seasonal offerings such as pumpkin and peppermint.

2019

  • 24,000 gallons
  • 78,887 scoops
  • 24,726 Grabbers
  • 9,186 milkshakes

2020

  • 12,000 gallons
  • 36,734 scoops
  • 13,157 Grabbers
  • 4,136 milkshakes

More Ferdinand’s by the numbers

Milking it

WSU’s Knott Dairy Center provides the creamery with its most important product: milk.

To increase production, specifically of Cougar Gold, WSU Creamery has also been buying milk from the dairy at the University of Idaho. In 2020, WSU Creamery received 4,887,926 pounds of milk between the two dairies, or just over 568,363 gallons. In 2019, it received just over 5 million pounds, or just over 580,000 gallons.

In all, WSU Dairy milks 180 cows. The Cooperative University Dairy Students, or CUDS, milks 30 at the same site. “The student group owns and manages their own herd—a great practical experience for them,” Haugen says.

Working it

WSU Creamery typically has 65 employees at any given time. Here’s how that number breaks down.

  • Production: 40
  • Ferdinand’s: 20
  • Direct marketing: 5

2019

  • More than 100 students with 41,032 hours

2020

  • More than 80 students with 36,134 hours

(This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Washington State Magazine.)