Saffron Walden ice cream producer ranked number one in country on eve of fifth birthday

Saffron Ice Cream Company

Saffron Ice Cream Company - Credit: Archant

On the eve of its fifth birthday, The Saffron Ice Cream Company was last week ranked first for making the best ice cream around. To celebrate, ABIGAIL WEAVING went behind the scenes to find out how the top-ranking treat is produced.

Saffron Ice Cream Company

Saffron Ice Cream Company - Credit: Archant

Winding down the country roads just outside of Saffron Walden, you soon spot a modest sign directing you towards a family farm.

Simply titled ‘The Saffron Ice Cream Company’, the driveway steering off to the right does not just promise a refreshing treat, but the best refreshing treat in the country.

Second home to founder Dominic Parry, 28, the company has rocketed since its birth in 2010, with awards adorning the walls and over 100 loyal customers cemented in the order book.

“The ice cream business sort of sprung up on me,” he told me. “The story goes that I have lived in Saffron Walden since I was eight and I remember walking through town with my mum and saying there is nowhere to get good ice cream.

Saffron Ice Cream Company

Saffron Ice Cream Company - Credit: Archant

“I forgot about it until I was at university. I had a month until my final exam and I just remember waking up one day thinking – ice cream, that sounds like a good idea.”

Last week the company was ranked by The Financial Times for making the best ice cream in the country, and Dominic already has the page framed, ready to take its place in the front office.

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“The ranking is massive. At the end of the day we’re a couple of Saffron Walden guys making a bit of ice cream. It is such an honour and a privilege.”

It is no wonder why the company is so popular though, offering long-loved classics and an ever-changing collection of seasonal flavours, from vanilla to honey and lavender.

Saffron Ice Cream Company

Saffron Ice Cream Company - Credit: Archant

Offering seasonal flavours that are actually seasonal is something the company prides itself on.

“People wanted truly seasonal flavours. Other companies will do a seasonal ice cream available all year, but how is that seasonal?” said Dominic.

Boosting the company’s wow-factor, however, is the sourcing of these seasonal ingredients, which are all sourced nearby and chemical-free.

He added: “The award is something for Saffron Walden to celebrate; that is what we are about – the community.”

Saffron Ice Cream Company

Saffron Ice Cream Company - Credit: Archant

Whether it is milk and cream delivered from Stocking Pelham, fruits grown at Hatfield Broad Oak or chocolate powder from Cambridge, each ingredient can be traced back to its original source just a few miles away.

Before long, Dominic leads me to where it all happens – the kitchen, which is tucked away just behind the front desk. Although modest in size, the kitchen holds two heavy-duty freezers, shelves crammed with spices and essences, more cartons of milk than I ever thought possible, and two high-tech ice cream makers.

Production manager Harry Bond has already started on a batch of caramel ice cream when I arrive; 30 tubs of salted caramel rest at one end of the workspace while he measures out more than 50 litres of milk.

The team get through a staggering 300 litres a week along with 50 kilos of cream. Every couple of minutes Harry pours buckets full of the milk into the first machine, before adding cream, sugar, milk powder, lemon juice, egg yolks and dextrose. Once full, the machine is left for just over an hour to mix and slowly heat the mixture before cooling again in preparation for the next step.

Harry said: “Food is my passion and I enjoy learning about food and the journey from field to fork. I am constantly looking for food trends and thinking of new flavour combinations. My job is very varied and thoroughly rewarding – it is not every day you are listed in the Financial Times.”

Once combined, the mix is placed into something that closely resembles a washing machine, which turns 12 litres of ice cream in just five minutes. As it touches the sides of the drum, it freezes, and the ice cream is born, kept smooth by the rotating blades until it reaches minus six degrees celsius.

Dominic explains that once this is complete, the ice cream needs to be placed in an extra cold freezer.

“We need to make it as cold as possible as quickly as possible to make it smooth and to prevent ice crystals.”

After a stint in the freezer, the tubs of caramel ice cream move to storage where they wait to be sold.

In fact, caramel is the company’s most popular flavour with their younger customers, with more than half of the flavour being sold at most events, while vanilla goes down best with older ice cream lovers.

“It is great; you see different ages and what they like. I would never order ice cream at the cinema, but older generations do, and I call the wafer a ‘cone’ whereas older people will call it a ‘cornet’.

“Everybody has got their first memory of ice cream. For me, it was at Sunday lunch. We were allowed one glass of lemonade and we would save it for our ice cream at pudding to make cream soda with.”

It is easy to see why Dominic loves his job and why, despite the ice cream, he has never cold feet. Although he admits that he does not eat as much ice cream as he used to, he knows how to make it an experience for every customer.

After photos in the sunshine I try a salted caramel cone and can certainly see what the fuss is all about.

Put simply, it is just great ice cream with none of the gibberish on the back and, even better, it is a firm fixture of the community giving back just as much as it takes.

As I make my exit, with the caramel cone long gone, I realise that it is because of this mantra that you can forget about the calories; this is what guilt-free ice cream really tastes like.

The Saffron Ice Cream Company will be back at the market this Saturday, complete with limited edition tubs of saffron and honey in celebration of its upcoming birthday.