Well, it’s been a long, but successful day; & on the whole thoroughly enjoyable, as well. We were up at some unearthly hour to sort out the animals before setting off on the marathon drive to Hereford; as today we had a rare opportunity to both attend RSS’s Ice Cream Academy. I’d met the Managing Director of the company, John, during my visit to the Ice Cream Alliance’s exhibition in Birmingham; & had been most impressed with his professionalism, enthusiasm & passion for everything to do with artisan gelato. His company had started running a highly successful gelateria in Hereford in the 1980s, streets ahead of its time & using fresh, natural flavours – I found it refreshing not to be sneered at for wanting to get my ice cream back to basics! Meanwhile, we completed the chores & made sure the animals were amply catered for, during the day. It was a clear, cold quiescent morning; just as we left the sun was rising over the Ffarm & the Frenni Fawr Mountain was framed by the tranquil halo of the coral & sapphire sky.
The drive soon descended into an icy gloom of fog & frost, however; although once the sun managed to break through the clouds the beauty of the Herefordshire countryside was eventually revealed in its’ full glory. En route I continued my perusal of the ‘Science of Ice Cream’; it really is fascinating stuff.
Thus, fired with enthusiasm we arrived at our destination – RSS in Hereford – over half an hour early. We were greeted warmly by the Managing Director, John, who immediately made us a delicious cup of freshly-ground coffee in the impressive ice cream parlour display shop, recently constructed on the premises to demonstrate the potential of what can be achieved – whether in town or by artisan producers in their own farm shop.
Once the other delegates had arrived, we moved into the practical training area, where the equipment is set out so that all the processes can be readily observed. Neil led the very professional session, demonstrating how to make both ‘white-base’ (skim milk powder with sugar & stabilisers) & ‘yellow base’ (milk, sugar & egg yolks) mixes; along with the infinite variety of fresh, natural flavours which can be made using the base mixes by simply using a few basic ingredients such as fresh fruits & juices, or ‘inclusions’ (such as Christmas pudding, chocolate chunks etc). The flavours developed were original, delectable & produced an ice cream possessing a lovely light but luscious mouthfeel. However, unlike the majoirty of mainstream, industrially-produced ice cream, this artisan gelato was not at all heavy on the palate. This subsequently emphasises the intensity of the flavours, & has the added advantage of actually being lower in fat but with no compromise to taste & texture – indeed it was one of the creamiest ice creams we’d ever sampled. And the particularly great thing about the lower fat content (typically only 8% fat)? If you’re feeling suitably peckish you can eat more of it, of course (& it is very ‘moreish’)!
We first sampled the basic mixes, then a pure real vanilla ice cream was produced. Other flavours whipped up for our delight included Rich Irish Cream, Christmas Pudding, Deep Dark Chocolate, & Black Forest – all very different from each other but all equally scrumptious. The equipment used (manufactured by the Italian company, Corema) was simple to use with plenty of useful features – including having horizontal rather than vertical batch freezers, allowing the easier addition of inclusions (larger solids such as pieces of fruit, nuts, biscuits etc) during the production process.
We had a break for lunch – which, despite the tempting range of sandwiches on offer was only lightly picked at as we were already feeling rather full – then it was back into the training room, to experiment with more flavours & then find out just how versatile the machines are, learning how to make sorbets, granitas & fruit ices. We tried the classical, pleasant tang of a lemon sorbet; & a really powerful, fruity raspberry ice which was of such fine consistency, it actually tasted creamy & could almost be mistaken for ice cream! Effective presentation made it even more mouthwatering, a real feast for the eyes being whisked into peaks of luscious magenta hue, & decorated with a simple scattering of plump, fresh fruits. Finally we learned one of the real gems about the equipment – it is very easy & quick to clean, using minimal water & making virtually no mess (makes a change!).
After the demonstration & feeling almost uncomfortably full, we discussed our plans in more detail with Neil, looking at the equipment which could potentially suit us & assessing the costs involved. By the time we’d finished talking it was past 6pm – so we really needed to ‘get our skates on’ & hurry back home to put the farm to bed.
Armed with a large polystyrene boxful of different-flavoured ice creams (including my favourite – Christmas pudding – heavenly!) we set off back across country to Wales. Owing to the returning blanket of dank, freezing fog, we opted to take a longer route over the Heads of the Valleys to stay above the inhospitable murk below.
We paused briefly in Carmarthen to pick up some hot, salty chips – having had neither the time nor, to be honest the inclination (after a day spent eating as much luscious ice cream as we could manage!) to stop en route for a meal; & literally hit the ground running when we returned home, going straight onto the yard to care for our livestock (who evidently hadn’t missed us in the slightest) before hastening back inside from the frosty night air & pulling off our boots with a sigh of relief, munching on piping hot chips & discussing our future with hope & excitement – after truly, the crème de la crème of busy, rewarding days.