Scottish independent ice cream production
Enterprising dairies keep the Scottish-Italian tradition alive
The availability of quality produce from diversifying dairy farms has fuelled a taste for ice-cream from our independent makers, writes Cate Devine.
The Scots-Italian culture may be alive and licking in Scotland but when it comes to making ice-cream it seems that tradition is dying out. Our taste for the old-fashioned milk-ice, brought to us by postwar Italian immigrants and made with milk, sugar and cornﬂour, is being overtaken by a preference for the creamy stuff – thanks to an unprecedented availability of top quality high-fat milk and double cream from Scottish farms. ‘Even the Italians who come to visit us are amazed by the tremendous quality of our milk and cream,’ says David Equi, whose fourth-generation ice-cream company, Equi of Hamilton, won top awards in six categories at this year’s Royal Highland Show. ‘Italian gelato is lighter because the quality of milk in Italy isn’t that good. Their good milk all goes to making mozzarella.’
Equi produces some 300,000 litres of 14 per cent fat dairy ice-cream each year to a recipe adapted from his Italian great-grandfather’s, and supplies bespoke ﬂavours to the G1 Group and Rogano in Glasgow, as well as 12 Asda stores and 130 wholesalers. He also part-owns the famous Nardini’s café in Largs, which makes its own luxury ice-cream using butter.
Ironically, the low prices that supermarkets pay for milk have helped to boost the independent ice-cream sector. Arran Dairies Ice Cream, for example, began in a desperate attempt to develop a market for the milk from the island’s three remaining dairy farms (at one time there were 30). Sales have increased ten-fold in ten years to around 2400 litres a week. ‘We doubled our market on the island in the ﬁrst year alone, proving demand was certainly there,’ says Alastair Dobson, managing director of Arran Dairies and the founder of Taste of Arran, a group of 11 food and drink producers on the island. Clients for his 14 per cent fat dairy ice-cream include the Macdonald hotel group throughout the UK, National Trust for Scotland properties and Dobbies garden centres. The supermarket trade is not an avenue Dobson chooses to go down.
Instead, a new business in bespoke ice-creams is developing. Dobson has so far created 70 ﬂavours – including Scottish rhubarb ripple and Arran lemon verbena for the recent Open Golf at St Andrews. However, vanilla is the most popular: it’s made up of three parts milk to one part cream. Arran milk has an unusually high fat content of up to 4.6 per cent; the cream 48 per cent, and the end product contains 12 per cent fat.
Bespoke ice-cream is popular with modern chefs who want to help to keep local, traditional skills alive and who get a kick out of being able to name-check not only their supplier but in some cases even the cows that provided the necessaries. Which makes smaller artisan producers increasingly sought-after.
Meanwhile, at Thorntonhall Farmhouse Ice Cream (based at the delightfully named Meikle Dripps Farm on the south side of Glasgow), Micki Henderson churns out some 270 litres of her bespoke handmade 8 per cent fat ice-cream each week to supply retail outlets and some of Glasgow’s top restaurants including Crabshakk, Gamba, the Dining Room, Urban Brasserie and Red Onion. Flavours include black pepper, gingerbread, balsamic vinegar and liquorice. The business began four years ago as a way of supplementing income from Micki’s husband John’s dairy farm at a time when milk prices paid by supermarkets were plummeting. She now uses the farm’s milk, cream and eggs. As a result, the company is unlikely to go down the supermarket route. ‘We wouldn’t want to grow too big because it would change our USP and we’d become just like everybody else,’ says Micki.
●Equi is at 9–11 Burnbank Road, Hamilton, 01698 282494
●A Taste of Arran, Brodick, Isle of Arran, 01770 302374, www.taste-of-arran.co.uk
●Thorntonhall Farmhouse Ice Cream, Meikle Dripps Farm, Thorntonhall, Glasgow, 0141 644 2226, www.thorntonhallicecream.co.uk
Cate Devine is The Herald’s food writer.