I love visiting food factories. I’ve been lucky enough to look around several chocolate factories in the last few years, but I was particularly excited when I was invited to visit an ice cream factory last week.
Jude’s Ice Cream is based in Twyford in Hampshire. Since starting out in 2002, they have grown to become one of Britain’s best known artisan ice cream makers, supplying some of the best known restaurants and chefs in the country.
In 2001 Theo Mezger left his job in banking and began searching for something new to occupy his time. After some research, he hit upon the slightly mad idea of ice cream making. Theo saw that there was a gap in the market for a British-made premium ice cream, and despite some skepticism, enrolled on a week long course at Reading University and started making ice cream in an out-building behind the family home in Easton in 2002.
That’s where we started our visit, and we were greeted at the house by Theo, his son Chow and the adorable family dogs.
We sat in the garden with Theo as he explained the history of the business and how it slowly began to involve the whole family and much of the local community. The base ice cream recipe hasn’t changed since 2002 and is made with local ingredients where possible. The company have a strong focus on ethics; they give 10% of their profits to charity and love to get involved in local school projects. What better way to teach children about the benefits of quality, local ingredients than through the medium of ice cream.
Even the milk in Jude’s Ice Cream comes from the company’s own herd on a local farm, where they buy direct from the farmer. As we’ve often seen in the chocolate industry, when producers buy direct and cut out the middle men, they get a better deal and the supplier gets a better price. It’s a win-win situation.
Growing The Business
It didn’t take long for other people to catch on, either. Theo quickly found that people only had to the ice cream try it once to be converted, but the challenge was getting them to try that first taste. With that in mind, they began approaching chefs, who quickly saw how good it was. Raymond Blanc, Marco-Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay all began serving Jude’s in their restaurants, and that market quickly became central to the business.
After a few years of growth, it was clear that the building behind the family home simply wasn’t big enough. After a short search, they found a unit on a converted chicken farm a few miles away in Twyford. There was plenty of room for growth, and space to get some serious ice cream making equipment in.
On the way to the factory, we stopped off at the dairy farm that supplies the bulk of the milk used in Jude’s ice cream. Despite growing up in the country, I’ve never found farms particularly exciting, but this was a bit different. These were ice cream cows.
The 220 Freisian Holstein cows are milked twice a day and in total produce a staggering 1.6 million litres of milk per year. That’s enough to make a lot of ice cream!
Tasting The Ice Cream
Our final stop of the day was the ice cream factory itself. It’s an impressive looking facility, but one that we couldn’t take any photos of due to commercial sensitivities. Before our tour began, we had a light lunch and got to taste some of Jude’s current range.
The ice creams are beautiful. All feature a wonderfully smooth and soft texture that melts evenly in the mouth. Of the ones we tried, I think the Ginger Spice – made with crystallised pieces of stem ginger – was my favourite, closely followed by the wonderfully smooth Salted Caramel. The good old-fashioned Very Vanilla was also a strong contender and the Mango Sorbet was very refreshing.
And that brings me to the chocolate flavours. The Double Choc ice cream is great, with a good balance of sweetness and and chocolate flavour. The new Valhrona chocolate sorbet didn’t quite manage to win me over though. I love a good chocolate sorbet (see my recipe here), and even use Valrhona in my own sorbets, but the balance of Jude’s version just wasn’t quite right for me. That said, it’s a very personal thing, and you really need to try it yourself to make up your own mind.
All too quickly our tour of Jude’s Ice Cream ended and it was time to head home. It was inspiring to spend time with people who care so much about what they make and how they source the ingredients. For me, the only sad point is that I’ve never actually seen Jude’s for sale locally. That is the nature of an artisan product though, and part of me likes the fact that it’s quite difficult to find. If you do see it for sale, I highly recommend picking up a few tubs, but be careful who you share it with. They’ll probably want to take the whole tub.