Norfolk family launches dairy ice cream venture

Fourth generation dairy farmer Andrew Clarke has gone back into cows again to produce the milk to make top-quality ice cream.

The family's ice cream venture on the family's south Norfolk farm was started by his wife Judy and now their daughter, Caroline has joined the expanding business.

Clarke's Ice Cream, which is based at Manor Farm, Wattlefield, near Wymondham, has just taken delivery of the latest engine to drive sales, Caroline's Magical Ice Cream Machine.

Mr Clarke dispersed the long-established dairy herd in 2000 when milk prices plunged. But in the intervening years, he missed the cows, said his wife. And while he hankered to return to dairying, she thought about the potential opportunties to diversify and generate more income from the cows.

'It took two-and-a-half years from having the idea to starting to make ice cream,' said his wife. When Mr Clarke resumed milk production in 2007, a former calf house was converted into a gleaming, stainless steel unit to make up to 30 different flavours of ice cream.

She said that officials at South Norfolk Council's environmental health department and also Norfolk's trading standards were helpful. They had to bring mains water to the farm to have a portable supply because the farmhouse was on well water and the farm has a borehole.

Mrs Clarke, who spent months perfecting the various recipes, is now in the processing of handing direct control to her daughter, Caroline.

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'We were building up and I need extra help and it got to the stage that I couldn't do everything. It was trial and error to start and we would do it over and over again until we were happy with it.,' she said.

After Wymondham College and then studying textiles at City College Norwich, Caroline, 27, wanted to get involved in the farm dairy business.

Now, she is looking to branch out by catering for the wedding and party market with her ice cream van, Caroline's Magical Ice Cream Machine.

But the foundation of the business, which had adopted the slogan 'Local Ice Cream made on our family farm with our cows' milk' is the 70-strong dairy herd.

When Mr Clarke went back into dairying on the 300-acre farm, he bought a mixed selection of cows including cull Holsteins but has gradually shifted to more dual-purpose breeds.

'I wanted less extreme dairy breeds and so I bought Red Polls and last year a batch of 11 MRI (Meuse Rhine Issel) heifers. Since I bought the MRI heifers, butterfat has gone from 3.5pc to 4.8pc,' he said.

The higher fat, ideal for making ice cream, compensates for the lack of milk yield. And he has also introduced Montbeliard cows as well. 'We sell to First Milk and they do pay extra for the butterfat,' said Mr Clarke.

He is currently milking about 55 cows, which calve all the year round. 'The aim is to feed what we produce on the farm. They get maize and grass silage during the winter, with bought-in concentrates fed in the parlour and then graze during the summer which helps to keep the costs down. I could go complete diet feeding but I prefer to go for the simple system.

'If the sales of ice cream continue to increase, then it will generate more of an income stream. At the moment it is just small-scale. We make to order in half-litre or litre and 100ml individual pots,' he said.

They sell the ice cream at Wymondham Farmers' Market today and two farm shops, Besthorpe Farm Shop, near Attleborough, and Aldis & Sons farm shop at Framingham Earl and local restaurants.