Sunday 25 August 2019

Dairy farmers taste success with artisan approach to ice cream

Joe and Caroline Daly have turned their small farm on Valentia Island into a unique experience for ice cream-loving tourists

Valentia Island ice-cream makers Caroline and Joe Daly with their sons Philip, Evan and Matthew
Valentia Island ice-cream makers Caroline and Joe Daly with their sons Philip, Evan and Matthew

Joanna Kiernan

In 2006, husband and wife, Joe and Caroline Daly started to explore different methods of bringing added value to their third-generation dairy farm on Valentia Island. "There was nobody else making ice cream in south Kerry at the time, and ice cream is a lovely commodity. Ice cream, as opposed to cheese, has a quick production rate, so that's why we went in that direction," says Caroline, who is also primary school teacher.

"We set about finding out how it was done, opened a little shop just in time for a heatwave that year - and tourists came flocking."

Valentia Island Farmhouse Dairy Ice cream is made with full-fat milk and cream from the Dalys' pedigree Friesian herd, with no artificial flavourings, colours or preservatives.

The ice cream parlour, which opens throughout the summer months, is now a firm favourite among passing tourists, who are often attracted by the novelty of being able to see the very cows responsible for the product, as well as the tasty, homemade ice cream on offer.

"My husband Joe is the third-generation farmer on this farm," Caroline says. "As soon as we had decided on what avenue we wanted to go down, Joe attended some courses and he travelled abroad then to see some other farms around Europe that had taken on the same initiative."

"It was a part-time thing at the start just to add value to the milk - and 10 years later we are still here," Caroline added.

For a time, Valentia Island Farmhouse Dairy was supplying to a number of retailers. However, Caroline and Joe decided to scale back on this element of their business and have refocused on the tourist market in more recent years.

"We supplied to shops previously and for a few years there we also made our own milk, buttermilk and yoghurt and we supplied to shops and hotels all around Kerry in the beginning," Caroline says.

"Now we have now discontinued that and have focused on the ice cream because it is a handmade, artisan product and it is hand-packed. So we only supply through our own ice cream parlour now, which we have built here on the farm."

The Dalys' new ice cream parlour was built as part of major renovations to the farm's original milking parlour, first built in the 1970s.

"We renovated and extended the original milking parlour, and now our product range includes ice cream, milkshakes and sundaes. We also serve tea and coffee," Caroline says.

"We also have a gifts and craft section and we have put in a substantial indoor play area for children."

"We hope to market it as now as a tourist destination," Caroline adds. "The business has grown and diversified in one way over the last few years and in another we have looked to purposely scale it back in order to cater more towards the tourism market and hopefully that will work out for us. It's going very well so far."

This fact that one may only taste Valentia Island Farmhouse Dairy Ice cream while on Valentia Island has helped add an element of exclusivity and luxury to the product. People are not just buying ice cream these days when they come to Valentia Island Farmhouse Dairy - they are buying a unique experience.

"It is our little secret now, which you can only have when you are here," Caroline says. "People love that it is artisan and made on the farm here.

"The milking parlour itself isn't 10 metres away from where the ice cream parlour is. So there is a zero carbon footprint I should think."

"Anyone who is visiting can sit outside where we have quite a large seating area. You can actually see the cows outside grazing in the fields in front of you, so you really know where it is coming from," Caroline adds. "We are here on the brink of the Atlantic with the good fresh air, good grass, healthy cows, great milk and great ice cream. We open for the summer season from May to September; from 11-6pm May to June and from 11am to 7pm in July and August."

The Dalys also plan to add farm tours and ice cream-making exhibitions to their repertoire and also do butter-making exhibitions for pre-booked groups.

"We are fully set up and equipped now to take any amount of visitors and tour groups and buses. We also have ample parking and seating, and the play area for the children - so it is all here," Caroline says.

A surge in Kerry's tourism over the last two summers, thanks in no small part to some Hollywood star power, with Star Wars filming taking place on the nearby Skellig Islands, has also given the area a huge boost and many business people the confidence to branch out or extend their offerings. "We have seen the Star Wars effect in action and we are also celebrating 150 years of the trans-Atlantic cable this year, which is an important thing to remember," Caroline says.

"Throughout history Valentia has played a huge role in the communications industry - it was the contact to the rest of the world. The island hosts a festival trying to promote that and highlight that, and show the world that this is what we have to offer."

Caroline's husband Joe also runs horse and carriage tours around Valentia Island, providing tourists with the local history and a stop at the ice cream parlour en route from Knightstown.

So far, the decision to refocus the business as a destination and tourist experience, rather than exhausting themselves to supply their artisan offering around Kerry and the surrounding areas has been a runaway success.

"We are busy 365 days a year," Caroline says. "But we throw all of our energy into the ice cream parlour in the summer. We bring in all of our ingredients from Italy and use only the highest quality.

"We can do any amount of exotic and strange flavours and we have a technician, who can make any recipe that is needed, but in the ice cream parlour we tend to stick to the most popular favourites."

The Dalys employ three people in the ice cream parlour on a part-time basis and their three children also love to lend a hand.

"They love to be involved and to help out - and it's great to see that they are taking an interest in the farming and in the business," Caroline says.

"I suppose every farmer wants to see their farm pass on to the next generation.

"So hopefully the business will grow and see us through."

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