Kerry Cow and Agritourism

I mentioned the Kerry cow in an earlier post, and this afternoon I braved the lashing rain to visit the Dingle farmer with whom we’ve been working toward using the milk in our ice cream. One of his cows had twins last week, and that means the some Kerry cow milk will be coming our way again soon!

The Kerry cow is different from the Friesian (Holstein) cows that you usually see about the place. It is an indigenous and very rare breed that is smaller, hardier, and generally much more alert and healthy looking.

I can’t wait to try making ice cream again with it!

What really excites me is that I think projects like this (i.e. farmers working with artesian food producers) can be one way that small Irish farmers can survive in the future of deminished or abolished subsidies.

Another way would be agritourism. It certainly seems that more Irish farmers should be looking at it, especially in Dingle or other places that are lucky enough to have a good flow of tourists.

They are mad for it in Italy, where people pay a fortune to pick olives, and in the US even movies have been made about city boys paying to round-up cattle at a dude ranch. Farmers gain income by offering lodgings and meals and can not only avoid having to hire help at harvesting time but get people who pay handsomely for the privilege. What could be bad about that?

Perhaps the problem here is that so many Irish people couldn’t wait to leave the farm themselves and move to the city to try to make a better living (my own family included). Perhaps the farmers who are left are so used to this state of affairs that they can’t see why anyone would want to come back, even as a tourist. But many city people see a week on a farm as a way of bringing balance back into their lives, and I think this trend will grow.

In fairness, agritourism does exist in this country in various forms, and even in Dingle with its pet farms and corn maze. There are other Irish farms at it including Sweetbank in Wicklow with its sublime fruits and farm shop/cafe, which an excellent example of how it can work…

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Return to Chocolate and Sugar

JP Pulling Ice Crea Today in the factory, JP and Neil were busy making ice cream in preparation for the St. Patricks day crowds-to-be in the shops. Since they needed some help, and I’m happy for any excuse to procrastinate from paperwork and administration, I went making hot chocolate.

Going through the process yet again, I thought I’d add that if you want to make our hot chocolate, (or the chocolate sauce recipe), make sure you follow the instructions about heating the milk and adding it to the melted chocolate. It really is the only way to get a good emulsion, and your sauce or hot chocolate will be smooth, glossy and professional-looking.

Chocolate EmulsionFor anyone interested, I learned almost everything I know about chocolate by taking the chocolate course offered by Valrhona (courtesy of our distributor Odaios), and there are many worse ways to spend a few days!

Finally, with the news of the closing of the Mallow sugar plant, it occurs to me that it would be a great business opportunity for someone to buy the plant and make organic sugar. Keep the jobs, keep the farmers happy, and go some way to redressing the huge organic trade deficit in this country. It would be one less thing we would have to import!

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Ode to Sugar and Caramel Sauce

Sugar JarAs we’ve been refining our caramel recipe, it occurs to me again that sugar is amazing. Especially as Irish sugar production is dwindling, it seems like a little paean of praise is in order.

You have this white, hard substance that dissolves into a clear liquid, sweetens everything it touches, turns into candy when cooked to a certain temperature, and it can be spun, pulled, and hardened. In all its various forms, it provides happiness to people every day. There might be health concerns and visits to the dentist, but we still have dessert at the end of a meal because it makes us feel good, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

The crusaders brought the first sugar back to Europe (and it got to the Mid-East from Polynesia via India, Persia, etc.) along with numerous enlightening discoveries learned from the Arabs. I am happy that they did, and surprised and grateful that they didn’t eat it all on the long trip back home. Otherwise, we’d be working with honey, and you can’t make caramel sauce with honey!

Here’s a recipe if you want to try it. Good luck. It’s not the easiest thing to make. Please take care, because melted sugar is dangerously hot!


Murphys Caramel Sauce Recipe

200 g Sugar
50 ml Water
150 ml of Milk
50 ml of Cream

1. Put the sugar in a large saucepan and evenly pour water over it.
2. Place over medium heat without stirring, until the sugar solution turns a deep amber colour, and most of water has evaporated.
3. Take off the heat and add the milk.
4. Immediately add the cream and stir vigorously. (If you don’t add it immediately, the sauce will go lumpy).
5. It may be necessary to reheat in order to fully dissolve the ingredients.

Caramel Sauce

Note: If you have problems cooking the sugar evenly and it starts to brown only at the edges, you can use a whisk to stir it, but you might have to pass the finished sauce through a sieve as it tends to make the sugar clump…

By the way, I know that not everyone can eat sugar, and regarding diabetics, I’m still on the frustrating search for a natural way to make diabetic ice cream. If anybody has any ideas…

Finally, thanks to Conor O’Neill for providing this link regarding chocolate and health. It helps with my chocolate is not a sin argument!

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Craquantes and Other Bits and Pieces

Chocolate PearlsStill on the subject of chocolate, I received a sample yesterday of Valrhona crunchy chocolate pieces from our supplier Odaios (see left). It surely is a wonderful thing to be in this business and get such presents! I’m practically sick from them; they are so good, and the sample size is so large! If there are any left on Tuesday, they will make a great addition to a batch of ice cream.

The factory was also brightened by the lovely Clodagh McKenna and Aoife, the producer for the excellent RTE radio show Winter Food. They recorded us and various factory noises. We should be on next Saturday’s show so listen in if you can.

Clodagh wanted a recipe for ice cream. I was thinking of white chocolate and rose water. I guess I can’t get chocolate off my mind!

Since I can’t, I might as well mention that my friend Conor brought back chocolate covered espresso beans from Caffe Sant’Eustachio in Rome, who make some of the best coffee in the world. As I munch away I think that it’s a pity he couldn’t bring back a cappuccino to go with them! Happily the Dingle shop will be open on Wednesday, and I’ll be back in the coffee again.

CourtyardAs we’re on that subject, I have been trying to do something with the interior courtyard in the shop. We inherited a half-plastered wall and have left it that way for the last six years. Finally I’ve decided to tackle it and tried painting it with a wash of our blue. It’s a bit electric, though. I don’t know what I think! I should be in there today painting away and getting ready for the opening, but I’m feeling lazy and besides we’ve given over the shop to the West Kerry Mental Health Assn for the weekend so they could raise some money by selling books.

Finally, this whole blogging thing is still quite new to me, but it’s quite exciting to see what’s out there, and what they are writing about. conoroneill is an interesting gourmet site, and I just did a search to see who’s writing about our company, and he was one of them! Sometimes one can feel a bit isolated as a foody in a rural part of Ireland (mind you, Dingle has its fair share), and this should help!

Raspberries: Using fruit in ice cream

Raspberry Ice CreamI am now back in Ireland and back to work. The cold shouldn’t be such a shock, but it is!

I made ice cream over the last two days, including most of our usual flavours, but the interesting thing is that I retrieved something special from the freezer. In Wicklow, there is a farm called “Sweetbank Farm,” and they grow some of the most amazing fruit. They have a farm shop and are definitely worth a visit during the season.

Last summer, they gave us a good amount or raspberries, tayberries, and other delectables and delighted many customers.

RaspberriesWe also froze some raspberries, and I dug them out to make some ice cream, thinking that there is nothing better in the cold of February than a taste of summer. So I made two batches, one simply with raspberries, the other with raspberries and dark chocolate shavings.

Putting fruit in ice cream can be tricky as the water in the fruit turns to ice, making it quite unpleasant. There are two tricks – alcohol and sugar. Soaking fruit in alcohol (rum raisin is an obvious example) keeps the fruit soft in ice cream. Soaking or cooking it in sugar also does the trick.

Raspberries CookingSince the raspberries were off the farm, I decided cooking was the best route, as it also pasteurises away any bacteria that might be lurking. I used about 10% sugar to volume, added about 5% lemon juice, cooked to a boil (see above), and then cooled immediately. If you try this, don’t cook it for long, or the fruit will lose all its fresh taste and will taste like jam!

Anyway, the result was very tasty indeed, and we’ll see what our customers say when it hits the shops!