U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal toured Buck’s Ice Cream plant Tuesday, Oct. 23, and realized like most others do that he’d eaten the ice cream before — and savored it — but he didn’t know the name because it is sold wholesale to high-end restaurants, country clubs, ice cream parlors and banquet halls.

The family-owned company of three generations that supplies ice cream products through most of the state got the visit from Blumenthal as a nod for receiving the 2018 Connecticut and New England awards from the state’s Small Business Administration for “Best Family Owned Business” of the year.

“A family-owned business like this is the lifeblood of our economy,” Blumenthal said, as he toured the factory, walking past huge refrigerators of cream, shiny silver vats where the ice cream is processed and 2.5-gallon tubs waiting to be packed and stored in a freezer set at 30 degrees below zero.

Many Fortune 500 Companies started as family-owned businesses, Blumenthal said, adding that family-owned businesses are important in providing jobs. Buck’s should be an “inspiration” to those who have thought about starting a business, the senator said.

“As difficult as it may seem to believe, this business is the American Dream — you start with an idea, make an investment,” and build, Blumenthal said.

It was during the visit through casual conversation that Blumenthal realized he had tasted the ice cream recently at Heirloom, a restaurant in New Haven where the family celebrated his daughter’s birthday.

“They had the best ice cream. I said to my wife, ‘You can have the cobbler (which it came on top of) — I’ll have the ice cream,’” Blumenthal said.

The ice cream factory and offices are situated in an industrial area of Pepe’s Farm Road, across from the U.S. Post Office.

The business today is run by Charles Buck Jr., his wife, Kandice Buck, both of Milford, and their adult children, Chris Buck, 38, Sarah Buck, 36 and Charles Buck III, 41.

The business was started in 1950 by Charles Buck Jr.’s father, Charles Buck Sr. — and it started really small.

Chris Buck said as the story goes, his grandfather had a close friend that was like family in Brooklyn, New York, who sold spumoni, and so the grandfather bought ice cream from him and traveled up and down the Connecticut shoreline selling the product out of a pickup truck packed with coolers and dry ice.

The truck kept breaking down in Milford, so his grandfather decided to stay there and create the business with start-up money from his dad.

They started with a few flavors and now have more than 70 flavors sold in 2.5-gallon tubs, including several created by the younger Bucks — such as a flavor called “Swamp” that’s vanilla ice cream mixed with M & M candy, malted milk balls, Oreos, chocolate chips and caramel swirl. The favorites still remain vanilla and chocolate — in that order, Chris Buck said.

The company is also known for its fudge roll, other novelty items, desserts, sorbets, yogurts and gelatos. The chocolate syrup is made from scratch, Sarah Buck said.

The family eats lots of ice cream — every day for Charles Buck Jr., Chris and Sarah — because they have to keep the quality high, they said. Chris Buck said he doesn’t bring ice cream home a lot, “Because I’d be 400 pounds.”

And although they work together every day, they try to leave business at work.

“There’s a general rule that you keep home, home and work, work,” Kandice Buck said. “Sometimes it comes up, but better it doesn’t. Otherwise, you don’t stay married.”

The Bucks have been married 43 years and have grown the business exponentially. Chris Buck said they make a half of a million gallons of product per year.

He said the “secret” to the taste is in the pasteurization process — it’s done at a low temperature, for a long time. The number of egg yolks they use also makes a difference, he said.

Anne Hunt, district director of Connecticut’s SBA, said the award goes each year to a small business that is family-owned and operated, with a 15-year track record that has been passed on from at least one generation to another. The business won the award under its legal name, Buck’s Spumoni Company Inc.

Nominees must have staying power, growth in number of employees, innovativeness of product, contributions to community-oriented projects, increased employment opportunities for family members and have had a response to problems faced in business, Hunt said.