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Sweet Magnolia Ice Cream Company

Balthrop Mixes up a new batch, Photo by Thomas Graning
Balthrop Mixes up a new batch,
Photo by Thomas Graning

All Hugh Balthrop wanted to do was keep smiles on his kids’ faces, so he started making homemade ice cream. Before he knew it, he had one of the tastiest little treats in the Delta.
Today, Sweet Magnolia Ice Cream has become a Delta delight, popping up on menus from Delta Bistro in Greenwood to outlets as far away as Memphis .
It happened before Balthrop knew it. In studying books to find flavor ideas for his kids, he kept coming up with more and more ideas for new flavors. As he started selling them, the business grew swiftly and moved from the backyard guesthouse to warehouse space in Clarksdale behind the chamber of commerce.
He enrolled in Penn State University’s Ice Cream Course and found out how much more could be learned in the world of frozen treats.
The answer: A lot.
“I’ll go through books and get inspiration like with this Lemon Drop. I just said, ‘Oh, that’d be different.’ We try to create something new and fresh,” said Balthrop.
It’s the flavors that have led customers to get hooked on what is really gelato in the Delta. “I was a little hesitant about saying it was gelato initially, just because I didn’t think people were that familiar with it. And so they taste it, it’s like ‘Wow!’ The flavor is a little more dense.”

That’s because it doesn’t have nearly as much air whipped into it.
People loved it so much, he’s bought a bigger gelato machine, imported from Italy, naturally, to handle the higher volume.
“Salty Caramel is the number one seller,” said Balthrop. “Number two is Whiskey and Pecans. It’s a seasonal flavor. We try to get creative.”
Balthrop finds much of his inspiration in his Southern surroundings. Banana pudding, moon pie, lemon poppy seed, sweet tea and Mississippi Mary’s pound cake have turned up as ice cream or sorbet flavors.
“It depends on what we can get in season,” he said. ”We support local farmers.” For example, pecans come from Tutwiler, blueberries from Grenada and fresh whole milk from the Brown Family Dairy.
The Balthrop family came to the Delta by way of Washington , D.C. , where Hugh had an art gallery, and his wife Erica had become a gynecologist and obstetrician. It was her summers visiting family in the Delta that made her want to move. Every time she returned to her roots, she fell more deeply in love with it. Hugh came along for the ride and now he’s glad he did.
“All my children were born in the Delta,” says the stay-at-home dad turned ice cream man with kids ages 4, 7 and 10. “This allows me to have a creative outlet. This is what I love to do and this is my passion right now. The smiles you get from kids and adults alike are just priceless.”
— Erin Scott, Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss, Land of Plenty magazine

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