Even the Godfather of cinema melts for Irish ice cream
Published 13/08/2014 | 00:00
'Apocalypse Now' director Francis Ford Coppola has done Irish tourism an enormous favour by declaring Ireland to be the most underrated holiday destination.
In an interview with the 'Wall Street Journal', he called the country beautiful and the people "extraordinary". But even more excitingly, he could be responsible for a surge in gastro-tourism, thanks to his paean to Irish ice cream.
"Irish ice cream is among the best in the world, which no one knows," he claims.
Francis Ford Coppola is not only a legendary director; he is also something of a bon vivant, being the owner of several luxury hotels, as well as a vineyard.
And of course he's absolutely correct, as every self-respecting, 99-guzzling Irish person will agree. We're a nation obsessed with ice cream, with one of the highest consumptions of it, per capita, in Europe but sometimes it can take a famous visitor to make us appreciate just how good we have it, ice cream wise, in this country.
Ice-cream makers claim the reason it's so delicious is because of our excellent and pure dairy produce. Kieran Murphy, who along with his brother Sean, is behind artisan brand Murphy's Ice Cream (their flavours include Dingle Gin, as well as sea salt) says it's all about our wonderful milk and cream.
"The reason that we went into business is because coming over - my brother and I grew up in New York, even though our father is Irish - it just seemed that the dairy here were head and shoulders above anywhere else we visited, and if the milk and cream were so good, then the ice cream should be as well," he says.
"We have this ancient dairy tradition here, which is fantastic, and we have one of the oldest milking breeds in the world, the Kerry cow. We've got our cows on grass where most other cows elsewhere are all shoved into pens and little milking factories, and ours wander the hills and munch away - and they've done all sorts of studies that prove that when cows are fed on grass, the milk tastes better."
That grass diet, as opposed to a maize one, which cows in other countries are commonly fed, translates into a superior mouthfeel, according to ice-cream maker Roger Fahy, of Linnalla Ice Cream which is made in the Burren with fresh milk and cream. It is free from artificial additives, preservatives and flavourings.
"Our ice cream is natural - it's tasty, it's got structure," he says. "A lot of ice creams you taste, you put it into your mouth and you might as well be drinking a glass of water. It's got no taste or texture. You swallow it and you don't know you've eaten it because you've tasted nothing."
Jim Byrne, who has been selling ice cream since 1974, started Happy Days Artisan Ice Cream in 2010, when he couldn't find a supplier of sufficient quality, but says that the ice-cream scene has changed.
"There are now about 20 producers that are producing a really high spec, high quality product," he says. "You're fighting money and advertising from Carte D'Or and Ben and Jerry's. I would put any of the ice cream producers against any of those producers and the Irish producers are streets ahead. It is very creamy, it is very wholesome in flavour and it is quite good for you." The company, which is based in Cork, has plans to contact the Dublin market next month. "We've had an exceptionally busy summer; we're looking forward to an exceptionally busy winter," he says.
Sadly, Francis Ford Coppola did not divulge which brand of ice cream that he favoured when he was here but it could be any number of Irish producers making a name for themselves.
"There are so many ice cream producers in Ireland that people probably aren't aware of," says Dee Laffan, editor of Easy Food magazine.
"Particularly in the last few years, with the recession and milk quotas, farmers needed ways of making revenue so instead of just doing milk, they started branching out into yoghurt and ice cream too.
"There's been huge encouragement within the industry as well, with competitions like Blas na hEireann giving them the recognition they need to really get their business off the ground."
And as to its appeal? It's creamier and velvety with a smooth taste and people just love it," she says.
Of course, it does seem a bit odd that Ireland should have such a love affair with ice cream considering that the weather rarely warrants a need to consume it. Kieran Murphy of Murphy's Ice Cream believes our appetite for it has to do with psychological reasons, rather than trying to keep cool.
"If you can't have a summer, maybe you can have a summer experience, that's my theory on it," he says. "You may not have the day on the beach that you're hoping for but you can at least have an ice cream and feel like summer."
But let's not assume that Francis Ford Coppola's Irish ice-cream enthusiasm had anything to do with the rainy holidays he's undoubtedly enjoyed here. It's much nicer to believe instead that he was seduced by the amazingness of an often unsung Irish food hero.