There was a time when luxury ice cream meant a Viennetta. Or possibly a tub of good quality vanilla – the kind with the tiny black dots in it. Now, artisan ice cream can be anything you like, from maple and mango to cacao and cardamom. The more ‘out there’, the better.
The people at Vallum Farm know a thing or two about ice cream. Theirs is award-winning, created on-site by a highly-trained and skilled team of individuals and served daily in the farm’s renowned Tea Room & Ice Cream Parlour. It’s made the traditional way, with clean, good-quality ingredients. They’re also passionate about creativity. Inventing your ‘dream’ ice cream is the name of the game during their ice cream making courses, which last around two hours and take place all year round at the farm’s Little Dairy Lab.
Those taking part learn all about flavour matching and freezing methods, get hands-on with machinery and taste-test their way to their ultimate, tailor-made ice cream, all under one roof. Experimenting with ingredients and textures is encouraged, no matter how safe or ambitious. Those with a love for familiar, old-school flavours, such as vanilla or strawberry, learn how to turn up the volume and make them even tastier, while more adventurous types are welcome to bring along their most loved chocolate bars, soft sweets, such as jelly babies or Haribo, and even drinks (creamy liqueurs are popular) to add to their chilled creations.
Today’s class is taken by Vicky Moffitt, who owns and runs Vallum with her husband, Peter. She’s super welcoming – a really pleasant person to be in the company of – with a great sense of humour that never falters throughout the class. She admits it’s been some time since she last led an ice cream class at the farm, but assures us that after 20 minutes or so of instruction, we’d be all-singing, all-dancing dairy queens (and kings), going at it alone.
Like most pupils, I arrive with a vague idea of what I’d like to rustle up, but have no clue as to whether or not the combinations I have in mind are possible. I like the idea of marrying creamy white chocolate with some sort of fruit. I’m toying with the idea of mixing milk chocolate with nuts and coffee. But, most of all, I’m fantasising about making my own coconut ice cream – just like the kind myself and my family only ever seem to find abroad.
But would it be do-able? I’ve forgotten to bring Milky Bars, we’re without Nutella and, the last time I checked, palm trees didn’t grow on farms. And yet, to my surprise, Vicky appears hopeful. We learn that the farm gets its flavours from a small gelato company, based in Rimini, Italy. They’re imported to a Manchester-based ice cream supplier and sent up to the farm from there.
Being a part of the class means you get to have a nosey through the collection. We discover that they’re basically just thick pastes in tubs; concentrated and all-natural, free from additives, E numbers and other nasties. We take some time lifting up lids and having a good sniff around for a few that smell like our idea of heaven. The possibilities are near endless – you’ll find everything from peach to peanut – and it isn’t long until I lay eyes on my key three players; white chocolate, milk chocolate with a slight hazelnut-like aftertaste, and coconut.
Hairnets and blue overshoes on, we learn that each batch of ice cream begins its life as a custard, made with raw whole milk from Northern Pedigree farm, near Slaley. Ours has already been made and is warming up in a big, heated mixer, whirling away until it reaches the maximum temperature for freezing. Once it’s reached its peak, it tastes and looks just like any great custard should: creamy, comforting and on the thicker side.
We add plump plums from the farm to my white choc ice cream
We take great pleasure in adding our chosen pastes to the mix; digging heaped, mouth-watering spoonfuls out of the tubs and dolloping them into the custard. Vicky is on hand to make sure everything is measured out exactly, but as she enthuses, it’s not really about the mathematics that make this step the most important. It’s about getting stuck in with the mixing and the stirring, immersing yourself in the sweet smells – the kind that make your eyes roll with delight – and enjoying those all-important taste tests along the way. And boy, do we have many.
We pour in any liquid extras, before the custard is popped into another big machine to be frozen for five minutes and then whipped for a few more to ensure a silky smooth texture. Two shots of espresso are added to my jug of nutty, chocolatey custard. Churning out the results is a fun task. The technique is pretty easy – a bit like pulling a pint – but making sure the ice cream slops into its tin evenly and in a ripple-like fashion can take a bit of concentration. Persevere and it becomes like child’s play.
We end up adding plump plums, freshly-picked from the farm, to my white chocolate ice cream, stirring ever so gently for a beautiful, rippled effect, before it’s plunged into the depths of the deep freezer for a couple of hours with the others. My coconut ice cream, meanwhile, is everything I hoped it’d be, transporting my palate to the tropics, and is left as it is. Vallum’s course is a great one for creative ice cream addicts and budding food scientists alike, packed with plenty of hands-on fun and technical chat, should you want it. Vicky, Peter and their team are expert hosts and you walk out of the laboratory doors feeling like you really learned a thing or two, with litres of homemade produce you can be proud of and that would put Mr Whippy to shame.
The ice cream making course costs £150 per person and you get to take a four-litre batch home with you. Available Monday to Friday | 01434 672 323 | vallumfarm.co.uk