The day dawned fine, sunny & hot – what a treat.
I loaded the travelling freezer with today’s delivery after completing the morning chores & set off to trundle the region’s roads, silently regretting the chenille sweater I had donned prior to leaving. I was particularly looking forward to today’s rounds; as I’d at last get to have a good look round Cwmcerrig Farm Shop & Grill, whom we supply with 120ml & 500ml pots of our Lovespoon gelato. Having only opened a couple of weeks ago they’d already sold out of their first delivery; had placed another order & significantly increased its size – good news. After an initially slow start (we are a new product, after all) the gelato was now flying off the shelves, especially with this unseasonable burst of wonderful weather.
The shop is truly impressive. Extremely large & spacious, over £900,000 was invested into its’ build by the hardworking & resouceful Watkins family; who completed the vast majority of the work themselves – including all the construction. It sells the ‘best of the best’ of local food; including organic fruit, vegetables & meat grown & raised on the farm. There’s a deli counter; artisan bakery; & an absolutely superb butchery section. And an already extremely popular 100-seater grill selling a delicious array of freshly-prepared food made with produce direct from their own farm & benefiting from a superb floor-to-ceiling picture window from which to view the surrounding countryside, which floods the whole shop with natural light.
Having dropped off my delivery I had a browse. At the deli counter I indulged unashamedly in one of my major passions – cheese. I bought a pot of Sanclêr Organic’s luscious basil & garlic yogurt cheese, to swirl into pasta or dollop over hot new potatoes as a healthy alternative to butter. And I couldn’t resist a nice fat wedge of nettle-wrapped Cornish Yarg; & some of my favourite, deliciously deep-flavoured oak-smoked cheddar, crafted by the effervescent Mary Quicke along with a little nub of her new goats’ cheddar, typically tasty with delicate notes of lemon & thyme, which I hadn’t tried before. I was delighted to find a camembert-sized wheel of the wonderful, pungent melt-in-the-mouth Golden Cenarth; a rind-washed, relative newcomer to the local cheese scene but one with a taste which sings on the tongue. And also a goodly chunk of what has to rank with the very finest blues: again a newcomer but nevertheless a triumph in cheese – Boxburg. Its luscious creaminess coupled with the delicate tang of the blue, is perfection itself; in my humble opinion it ranks right up there with Harbourne Blue (a great goats’ cheese) & even the already-legendary Stichelton. It will certainly put Wales on the map for this type of cheese – it’s not just Stilton that can produce such quality.
I filled my basket with a host of other delicious, local goodies; & headed off to the till. What a delight, to see a big, glass-fronted freezer proudly displaying row upon row of freshly-stacked, elegant pots of Lovespoon – I wish I’d brought my camera! For those who have never ventured down the path of taking your own product to market, there is nothing that quite stirs the soul as when you’ve put so many years of time, effort & heart (& indeed money!) to reach this stage – to see that which you’ve worked so incredibly hard to achieve, finally reaching fruition in such a simple but personally profound way. For most people I’m sure, they wouldn’t think twice about a freezerful of ice cream; however several of my friends have already excitedly contacted me, saying how proud & delighted even they themselves have felt, to see Lovespoon appearing in this-or-that shop, or delicatessen, or restaurant or whatever – so it’s obviously infectious!
As I stood there a lady perused the freezers. I saw her drift to the neighbouring cabinet….where another local brand is stocked; but one which has the benfit of being extremely well established throughout West Wales. My heart sank. Our gelato is priced a little higher owing to the fact that it contains completely, purely natural ingredients of the finest quality; therefore even though our product is a little more expensive our profit margin is, ironically, considerably lower that that of our competitors – ours really is a labour of Love.
But after peering in the other freezer she returned to the Lovespoon cabinet….& selected two pots of Honeycomb. I couldn’t help but ask her, why?
“We just adore it”, she enthused. “You can really taste the honey….it’s simply delicious!”
I bounced out into the Spring sunshine, grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. This is what it’s all about – customer satisfaction, adding a smile to someone’s day. It makes everything we do, all the hard work, worthwhile.
Meanwhile onto something less pleasant. One of the things we continually do is compare our gelato against other varieties of ice cream. I’d noticed some pots in a nearby shop from another Welsh producer; & decided to compare their honey ice cream to our own honeycomb gelato. This was another variety made with local honey rather than the usual caramel or butterscotch whith which so many ‘honey’ ice creams are (to my mind, very oddly) flavoured; so I was keen to try it. It was sold in the same-sized small pot as ours – 120mls.
I perused the ingredients. Before going any further, I’d be grateful if you’d read the two lists of ingredients below (I will deliberately not specify the type of milk), & vote in the poll as to which you would prefer to eat. Incidentally if you don’t like the sound of either of them I’d be grateful if you’d leave a comment as to why! Or even – if so inclined – as to why you chose one variety over another. So here we go:
Variety ‘A’ : Skimmed milk powder; cream; sugar; honey (4%), emulsifier E417, stabilizers E412, E407, E410, butteroil; flavouring (curcumin).
Variety ‘B’ : Whole milk; British sugar; free-range egg yolk; cream; pure whole milk powder; woodland honey (6%); honeycomb/traditional cinder toffee (sugar, glucose syrup, bicarbonate of soda).
Variety ‘A’ is the one I sampled today. Variety ‘B’, is Lovespoon. Incidentally whilst sugar appears higher on the list of our ingredients, whole milk takes up considerably more volume than skimmed milk powder, as you can imagine. Gelato is in fact only around 14% sugar compared to most ‘standard’ ice creams which are typically in the region of 23-27%.
The sample pot was the same volume as ours – 120mls; & yet it only weighed about a third as much. Why? Well; this is what is technically termed, ‘overrun’; which for the uninitiated, is basically, air. All ice cream requires a certain amount of air to be beaten into it, to give it a yielding texture; otherwise when fully frozen it’d be like stone! However whilst our gelato – being what’s known as a traditional ‘yellow base’ (i.e. just milk, cream, sugar & egg yolk) – is very dense; by using an ‘industry standard’ premixed powder lots more air can be added, creating a very light, fluffy texture….although what the customer is actually paying for is not improved quality or taste, but air: the more of which can be included, the more economical for the producer.
If you were to melt a traditional gelato & one of these ‘ice creams’ alongside one another you’d find that (apart from the fact the gelato would take much longer to melt) the gelato would essentially return to its constituent parts; & would effectively become a rich milkshake, staying at the same level in the pot. The ice cream however, would diminish in volume whilst forming a revolting washing-up-liquid-like consistency. Yummy.
And then there was the taste. Cloyingly sweet, with a heavy ‘mouthfeel’ which left an unpleasant film on the roof of my mouth – not what I’d call a pleasurable eating experience; in fact wholly disappointing. There was a cursory ‘nod’ to honey in there, somewhere; however the claggy veneer of fat prevented it from hitting the tastebuds effectively. Again by comparison, gelato is between 7-8% fat; so whilst the texture is velvety it’s also a little less creamy; more light & delicate, which is what enables the natural flavours of fruit, herbs & honey to really shine through. In fact what’s known as ‘premium’ ice cream has nothing to do with quality; it’s about the amount of fat it contains (18-35%). And so-called ‘super premium’ contains 35%+….ugh.
So, back to the ingredients list. One small consolation was that this variety at least, didn’t contain any colouring; although I can never quite understand why so much ice cream actually does. The same company produces a ‘mint choc chip’ flavour, which is a sort of lurid, luminous alien green complete with muddy flecks, whilst glowing eerily through the clear walls of the plastic pot; ours, I’m afraid, doesn’t contain any chips but is simply delicious, dark chocolate gelato laced with pure peppermint oil – clean & refreshing, & decidedly rich, natural chocolate in colour.
To me, what I sampled this morning doesn’t bear any resemblance to a pure, natural product: the ingredients list reads more like something you’d find in a chemist’s lab. It contains an excessive amount of air; & the flavour of what is actually, ironically an evidently very good-quality honey, is sadly masked by excessive fat. My bewildered question, is “why?”. I can only assume it’s to do with the Great God profit….
Incidentally I should mention at this point that we are exceptionally critical of our gelato; hence the reason we continually compare all aspects of it against other supposedly similar varieties. What I have written here is purely based on personal observation & simple fact. However I fully appreciate that some people prefer a heavier ‘mouthfeel’ to their ice cream & would miss the overtly creamy texture of something like a clotted cream or Jersey ice cream, if they were to sample ours; where a dessert is concerned, sweetness & fat can come into play more than subtle tastes & textures – especially during colder weather when our bodies crave ‘booster’ foods. We’ve found that a great deal is also influenced by the type of foods people ate during their formative years; so it’s very much a matter of subjective rather than objective, taste. Nobody is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; it’s all simply a matter of individual taste. Each to their own; that’s what makes the world so wonderfully diverse, after all.
Completing my other ’rounds’ I called in to visit friends on the Hill, before returning to the Ffarm. They were enjoying a brief break with a cup of coffee, calmly surveying the incredible vista in the beautifully warm sunshine. After a cheery chat I hurried away, joking that “knowing my luck one of the girls will be busy kidding, lambing or whatever whilst I’m not there to keep an eye on things…!”
Back at the Ffarm I hauled on my ‘sloppies’ & started the next round of chores. Heaving the heavy feed pail up to the sheep trough I gave my usual cheery clarion call – & as ever, like a posse of cowboys riding into town, they came flocking down the hill. All except one….
Althea is particularly distinctive as she is literally the ‘black sheep of the family’. Well actually, that’s not strictly correct; she’s silver-on-chocolate, a very alluring ewe. I live in eternal hope that one day her gene will break though MacDougal’s, in typically feisty dominance & we’ll get a little chocolate -coloured daughter….but his Greyface Dartmoor stamp is so strong that every year we faithfully get a fresh flock of miniature MacDougals.
Today proved no exception. I could hear her bawling from (typically) the top of the field, on the most exhausting part of the hill; & found she’d successfully delivered a lovely little ewe lamb, immediately dubbed ‘Daisy’. When Mum & baby had sufficiently recovered I transferred the flock onto fresh pasture; doing the same with the ponies further up the hill, to ensure they too didn’t go hungry (although the Shetlands are still as fat as butter!). And so we have yet another snowy-white lamb, skipping the pastures before bedtime; but a very special delivery, nonetheless.
After doing the basic chores, & prior to tackling the milking I cooked a bite of supper & relaxed with a cool glass of dry white wine, a handful of grapes & some of my cherished cheeses whilst watching another dreamy sunset, the bats dancing & wheeling overhead before climbing, crampon-like, up the whitewashed wall of the old Long Barn with their bounty of insects. I wonder if they’d like some of that honey ice cream…..?