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NMSU's ACES in the Hole Foods gives students real world experience

Students at New Mexico State University are bringing a taste of Italy to the southwest by creating and selling unusual flavors of homemade gelato. The sweet treat is just one of a number of food projects emerging from a recently established program.

NMSU students pouring gelato mix into an ice cream maker
Food Science and Technology students pour gelato mix into an ice cream maker for ACES in the Hole Foods. (NMSU photo by Samuel Horstman)
NMSU student making gelato
Food Science and Technology student making gelato for ACES in the Hole Foods, a student-run food company at NMSU that is part of the curriculum in Food Science and Technology. (NMSU photo by Samuel Horstman)

ACES in the Hole Foods is a student-run food company at NMSU and a part of the curriculum in Food Science and Technology, under the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. It provides students with hands-on opportunities to apply the principles of food science and technology to the invention of new food products. Students in the program make and distribute homemade gelato from recipes they mix up themselves, among other food projects.

"The addition of ACES in the Hole Foods to the curriculum gives students the chance to develop the skills needed to translate those principles into the selection, processing, preservation, packaging, distribution and use of safe, high-quality foods," said Lisa McKee, Food Science and Technology professor.

McKee said when a new idea for a gelato flavor is presented, the students work together to figure out how it will be made. Some of the flavors created by the students include butternut squash, green chile lime sorbet, red chile pineapple sorbet, caramel apple, pecan pie and double dark chocolate.

"We try to stay away from the basic things that you could buy anywhere else," McKee said. "We want to make unique types of flavors."

When a recipe has been developed the mixes are made by the students in advanced and are placed in a refrigerator for 24 hours to age. After aging, the mix is frozen in an ice cream freezer and is then ready for sale.

"We have to do a lot of planning to make it work," McKee said. "Since they only go to class twice a week it can be difficult."

The company began operating as a class in October and since has developed 25 different flavors of gelato. The students have begun selling homemade brownie mix, as well.

"We have had some kinks and bumps in the road but we are not in bad shape," McKee said. "We have done some selling and started working on the basics of how a company runs. It was a learning experience for all of us."

Within the company, students are placed in different groups that all help in the process of running ACES in the Hole Foods. The groups include production, quality control, sanitation and marketing. McKee said part of the student's job in the company is to create new products.

"Descriptions for many food science and technology jobs, even those that are entry-level, often require one or two years of experience," McKee said. "ACES in the Hole Foods give students that job experience."

Every semester students will be placed into different groups so by the time they graduate they will have experienced the different roles in the company.

"Since students change jobs within the company each semester it gives them perspective on how the different parts of a food company fit together and how an entire food company operates," McKee said. "It also allows them a chance to experience the different areas which will hopefully help them focus on one or more areas of interest when they begin looking for an industry job."

The Food Science and Technology program is designed to give students a solid background in diverse scientific disciplines as well as the core food science and technology disciplines such as food microbiology, food analysis, food chemistry, food preservation, product development and sensory evaluation. These two components give students the principles needed to understand the nature, deterioration and processing of foods.

Before ACES in the Hole Foods began operating as a food company McKee and several students developed a chile brownie mix for the NMSU Chile Pepper Institute to sell. This semester McKee said the students are working on a blue cornbread dry mix.

McKee hopes this semester the students will be able to tour other food companies in order to get a better idea how a food company runs.

"It's evolving over time just like a regular company does," McKee said. "We are just starting from scratch."

ACES in the Hole Foods is located at Gerald Thomas Hall 332 and is open Tuesday and Friday from 9:30-11 a.m. For more information on ACES in the Hole Foods contact McKee at 575-646-1182 or lmckee@nmsu.edu.