I scream, you scream..!

Jane Pikett and son James (just call him the prodigal son…) get a taste for ice cream making

There is little so joyous as a towering ice cream cornet topped with a Flake and a generous dollop of red sauce. Or a Knickerbocker glory, loaded with fruit, whipped cream and the softest ice cream smothered in chopped nuts and chocolate sauce.

Me? I’m a new convert to the brownie ice cream sandwich. They say it’s big in the States and trend forecasters say it’s set to be the biggest thing on the English summer menu 2012.

I say they’ve been beaten to it by ice cream maker Vicky Moffitt, pictured,  whose home-made brownie ice cream sandwich with hot fudge sauce (yes, really…) has been selling well at her Vallum farm shop and team room on Hadrian’s Wall all summer.

Mind, she’s no great lover of the stuff herself, preferring the cheese she is now experimenting with in the family farm dairy in Stocksfield, where her husband Peter’s Brown Swiss cows graze happily in the field next door.

The cheese isn’t yet ready to go into production (lots of experimentation to be done yet) but the ice cream operation is a regular cottage industry, producing 20-odd flavours, taste tested and approved by farmer Peter himself – the acknowledged expert.

“He has the palate for it,” says Vicky. “Me, I’d rather stick with the cheese.”

Her cheese, which as mentioned is still in its infancy, is pure white, fresh and clean tasting; its texture goat’s-like in week one, Cheshire-like in week two.

I suggest she adds garlic and chives to a batch to see what happens. She promises to give it a go.

Meanwhile, Number Two son James, 13, and I are invited to the farm dairy on a wet Wednesday morning in the school holidays to try ice cream making.

We need no encouragement, and when we arrive home later armed with a gallon or three of ginger flavour and more of chocolate, we are the heroes of the household, which is nice.

The transition from the milking shed to the ice cream in our freezer is brief. To sum up, the cows are milked, the raw milk is filtered and then pasteurised and made into custard by heating and mixing it with sugars and an emulsifier.

If you’re doing chocolate, you add the flavouring when it’s still warm before whipping, cooling and freezing. For any other of the many myriad of flavours, you refrigerate the custard for 24 hours and then add the flavours before the last whip, cool and freeze.

And that’s it. Well, with a lot of temperature control, maths, flavour testing and balancing, mess (well, if James and I are involved) in between.

Under Vicky’s watchful eye, James and I make several large tubs of the base custard, plus many more tubs of ginger and of chocolate than even our gannets at home can eat.

We are privy to some secret flavours and some neat combinations (Alnwick Rum and raisin, caramel toffee and fudge, white chocolate Maltesers…), and we experience some of the issues which tax the mind of the ice cream maker in the middle of the night (scoopability, consistency, flavour balance, sweetness).

Vicky says she owes the success of the operation to Maureen Oliver, who is not only head herdswoman but also an expert cook and ice cream maker. She also makes the lemon curd and meringues which go into the lemon meringue variety – a deserved Gold Taste Award winner.

Maureen is modest about her part in the operation, but Vicky says they couldn’t do it without her, especially as she is about to expand their yoghurt flavour range from natural only to honey and ginger flavours.

Vicky plans to keep production of Vallum Farm ice cream and yoghurt small, restricting its sale to Vallum Farm tea room on the Military Road and a couple of small outlets.

And soon the tea room will expand soon to offer more family friendly activities, while Vicky also produces her own brand takeaway ready meals for sale there.

The trick to juggling all this and two daughters under five? “Make as much good quality ice cream and yoghurt as you can in as short a time as possible,” says Vicky, haring off across the yard in hot pursuit of daughter Phoebe, two, who is tottering off to pet the cows, cornet in hand. There’s a chip off the old block…

Vallum Farm, Eastwallhouses, Military Road, Newcastle, NE18 OLL, tel 01434 672 652, www.vallumfarm.co.uk

Try this…

Ice cream balls: Take scoops of coffee ice cream, roll in gingersnap crumbs and freeze on a baking sheet. Serve with chocolate dipping sauce.

Warm berry sauce: Pick a bag of brambles in the woods and hedgerows, heat in a saucepan with a little orange juice and sugar and spoon over vanilla ice cream.

Peach shake: Blend ripe peach flesh with a little pineapple juice, vanilla ice cream and milk and whizz.

Strange brew
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