Our ice cream dynasties hold the whip hand
Published 29/08/2015 | 07:00
Fancy ice cream used to be a mint Viennetta on your mam's birthday. A Romantica ice cream cake was reserved for those who had notions of themselves.
But Irish palates have evolved; nowadays, a Wibbly Wobbly Wonder just won't cut it I'm afraid.
We want more; more choice, more flavours and more mounds of calorie-laden ice cream wonderfulness.
As a nation, we consume an awful lot of ice cream. Last year, we ate 10 million Magnums, which is worrying considering your average cone contains more saturated fat than a T-bone steak. Aware of our national weakness, US ice cream chain Baskin Robbins announced earlier this month that it would be opening new stores around the country.
But we shouldn't let a sugar-coated US conglomerate overshadow our very own ice cream dynasties.
Why just last year, 'Godfather' director and unofficial dessert aficionado, Francis Ford Coppola, boldly stated that Ireland produces the greatest ice cream in the world - and he's Italian so he ought to know what he's talking about.
Some immigrant families from Italy, like the Borzas and the Macaris, founded celebrated fish 'n' chip shops when they arrived on our shores, but others decided to specialise in their homeland's most iconic dessert - Gelato.
The Morellis are one of the oldest ice cream families in the country. Having left the Italian province of Frosinone in the early 1900s, Peter Morelli began selling ice cream in the northern seaside towns of Portstewart and Portrush in 1911.
Peter and his wife Annie Dymond opened their first cafe in 1914, and the Morelli family have been serving up moreish treats ever since.
Fourth-generation ice cream maker Arnaldo Morelli thinks nostalgia plays an important role in ice cream's enduring popularity.
"It's associated with positive memories; holidays, birthdays and celebrations. Ice cream equals happiness."
The sugary dessert also manages to give consumers a taste of luxury while remaining relatively inexpensive. "It is affordable but tastes decadent, so it's a real treat," he added.
According to Arnaldo, our expertise in dairy production ensures Irish ice cream is top-notch. "Irish milk and butter is famous for its rich taste, so it makes sense our ice cream tastes fantastic too," he said.
Roger and Brid Fahy, who run a small fragmented dairy farm on the Finaverra peninsula in north Clare, decided to start churning their own ice cream, called 'Linnalla', in 2006.
"We had three small children and needed to expand the business," Brid explained. "We couldn't increase the size of the farm as we live on a peninsula, so we thought 'let's diversify'.
"The artisan cheese and fudge markets were becoming saturated so we decided to start making ice cream."
Linnalla's most popular scoops - wild hazelnut and fresh blackberry - are a hit with holiday makers. "Holidays and ice cream go hand in hand," Brid says. "Everyone knows that."
There's a science to why we like ice cream: the changing texture as it moves from solid to liquid is titillating and tasty and it ranks low on the satiety index so you can eat a lot of it before feeling too full - or too guilty.
Brothers Sean and Kieran Murphy founded Murphy's Ice Cream in Dingle in 2000, and believe the inclement Irish weather helps maintain high ice cream sales.
"It reminds people it is summer time regardless of the weather," Kieran laughs.
US company Baskin Robbins may boast over 1,200 flavours, but most Irish ice cream makers seem unfazed by their arrival.
Yasmin Khan, of Dún Laoghaire's famous institution Teddy's, says Irish people value simplicity.
"We offer syrups and sauces at our outlets but people cannot get enough of a traditional 99," she said.
While Jonathon Kirwan, of Gino's Gelato, maintains that when it comes to ice cream, local loyalties run deep.
"Irish people want to know where their food comes from. They want artisan ice cream not mass-produced products," he said.
"No matter how many flavours and combinations Baskin Robbins have, they cannot compete with the quality, or our dairy."