Rowlestone Court Farm
We’d once have talked about a swirl of fluffy stuff dispensed from a candy-coloured van, yet in recent years British ice cream has turned into something of a foodie sensation.
Innovative flavour combinations using natural, high-quality ingredients have meant organic, local and seasonal have become buzzwords for the ice cream market too. Ice cream has joined the artisan food revolution. Encouraged by the consumer demand for local foods, and disheartened by the dwindling prices for milk, many British dairy farmers have chosen to make ice cream with their milk instead – and from my personal experience it would appear a lot of them are rather good at it. It’s a growing market, with an estimated 1,000 artisan ice cream producers in the UK (where it’s made by a skilled person, in small batches).
When I set out on my Eat Local quest to find Certificated Sites (CSs) that also produce food, I never imagined I’d find a site with its own ice cream parlour. But I have, so let me introduce Rowlestone Court in Herefordshire.
Mark and Mary Williams are third generation farmers on this dairy farm, nestling in the foothills of the Black Mountains. In an idyllic rural setting the farm at Rowlestone Court covers 300 acres, a third of which is covered in woodland. The upland pastures are grazed by a mixed herd of about 90 dairy cows, ranging from Holstein-Friesians, Ayrshires, and Simmental cross’ – once a Swiss milking breed – and one Jersey cow called Primrose.
Mark explained: “There came a point about six years ago when we had to take stock of the efficiency of the farm. Dairy farming in this country had not been in a great state for some time, and the supply and demand for our milk didn’t add up. We realised that we had many great assets – the quality of our land and environment is fantastic.
“So with the help of DEFRA’s Environmental Stewardship scheme, we developed other areas of our farm and made it more accessible to the public by creating nature trails through woodland and a wildflower meadow.”
Mark and Mary also restored orchards and focus much more on environmental management and conservation. Another way to encourage the public to enjoy the land was to set up their CS – 1.5 acres with spectacular views towards Monmouthshire and next to a field of entertaining rare breed sheep and kunekune pigs. It has proved very successful. As Mark says: “It always surprises me that we get just as many local people coming to camp here, as we do from far and wide.”
Using their own milk to make ice cream seemed to make sense too. Mark realised there was growing interest in locally produced and high-quality foods. so the 19th century milking parlour where Mark’s grandfather used to milk his short-horn dairy cows, was renovated to become an ice cream parlour, café and site shop. So while Mark milks the cows, Mary spends her time making the award-winning ice cream with the help of a couple of part-time staff. The result is a finely-textured rich ice cream, in a dazzling array of flavours, both traditional and non-traditional.
Mark added: “Using our own fresh cream and milk to make a consumer-ready product in the same day is hugely satisfying. We source as much as we can from local producers to flavour our ice creams. The local strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries and raspberries are fantastic.”
There are about 40 flavours, including the range of fruit sorbets. The more unusual flavours include single malt whiskey with orange marmalade and caramelised pecan nuts, both of which won a gold star in the Great Taste Awards, as did the honeycomb, which I’m told outsells vanilla at Rowlestone.
For fear of sounding like a famous food advert, this is no ordinary CS. It’s a well-run campsite with an endless supply of home-made ice cream, which in my book makes it pretty special. When you’ve enjoyed the fruits of Mark and Mary’s labour, you can head off on a nature walk through ancient woodland and a wild flower meadow to spot wild orchids or bluebells, you can meet the rare breed farm animals or just sit by the pond to think about which flavour you might try next.
You can also find Rowlestone Court ice cream at events and food festivals around Herefordshire, as like many of the artisan ice cream makers Mark and Mary tend to sell through smaller outlets, not supermarkets. I’ve discovered some fabulous artisan ice creams on my travels but I’d be interested to hear from members about their favourite farmhouse ice creams and particularly the most unusual flavours they have come across.
So don’t hold back on the ice cream this summer – as long as it’s the good stuff of course. And, if anyone raises an eyebrow at my copious ice cream consumption, I’ll tell them I’m selflessly supporting local farmers. I suggest you do the same.
For more information on Rowlestone Court CS click here.