We had a very cool time visiting Marshfield Farm recently. Cool being the optimum word, particularly during our tour of the ice cream factory and the cold stores.
When I first told my girls we’d received an invitation to an ice cream factory, you can imagine their response. Having a food blogger for a mother can sometimes be a bit of a drag, like when their dinner is going cold while I get “just one more photo for the blog.” They certainly weren’t grumbling though when they heard they were going to be road-testing ice creams from one of our favourite local brands…
Marshfield is an organic dairy farm just outside Bath, on the edge of the Cotswolds. Dawn and Will Hawking started making ice cream at Marshfield 28 years ago, while Will’s family have been farming there since 1971.
On our arrival at the farm, Dawn gave us a cheery warm welcome and, much to my kids’ delight, took us straight into the ice cream parlour. Now this is no glitzy, chrome and plastic ice cream parlour; it’s more of a vast ice cream barn really; a barn that was once was the milking parlour, dating back to around 1650. It’s so rustic, there were even swifts flying overhead, in and out of the huge oak beams. It’s a wonderful space. The parlour is open to the public at weekends from Easter through to the end of September. If you’re heading into Bath from the M4, do pop in and pick up a tub or two to take home with you or stay and indulge in one of their marvellous sundaes.
As Dawn and I chatted, Jessie and Mia tucked into their first ice creams of the day. With 28 different flavours of dairy ice cream and six varieties of sorbet on offer, the girls found it an understandably tough choice. Mia, my little chocaholic, opted for the Chocolate Fudge Brownie (featuring brownie specially made for the ice cream by nearby Marshfield Bakery), while Jess plumped for the Caramel Fudge in Clotted Cream. That kept them quiet for a little while.
Within minutes of meeting Dawn, it became evident just how passionate she is about the farm and the ice cream they make there. Originally from Inverness, she doesn’t come from farming stock herself but met her husband Will at a Young Farmers event. Back in the early days of Marshfield Farm Ice Cream, when it was more of a hobby than a business, Dawn was working full-time as a physiotherapist but as demand for their delicious product grew, she gave that up to work alongside Will.
Dawn is incredibly proud of what they have achieved at Marshfield, but admits it has been a hard journey and one they’ve had to put their all into. Dairy farming is an increasingly tough industry to be in and the decision to diversify into ice cream has ultimately paid off for them. “Out of three dairy-farming families we knew from our Young Farmers days,” Dawn tells me, “we’re the only ones still in dairy. The ice cream has added real value to our business.”
They had to learn the ropes completely from scratch – with the help of a few books, Will’s health and hygiene course and some sound advice from his mum. Gradually they built up a following, selling at markets and to local pubs and restaurants.
As we move into the farm-house to continue our conversation, sitting in Dawn’s stunning country kitchen (which not surprisingly has been featured in various lifestyle magazines), Dawn admits that while life is good and they are now “living the dream”, it would be a lie to say it has been easy. But achieving your dream never is, is it?
As we chatted, Mia was distracted temporarily from gorging on ice cream by the family dog, Widget. According to Dawn, Widget always manages to steal the limelight. He is such a cutie, I can see why. Mia would have smuggled him home given half the chance.
Today, Marshfield is one of the West Country’s best known brands, winning top awards all over the place for their wonderful ice cream, including many from Taste of the West and no less than 12 Great Taste awards from The Guild of Fine Food. Their Blackcurrants in Clotted Cream ice cream has just been announced overall winner of the entire Dairy category at Great British Food magazine’s Farm Produce Awards.
You’ll find Marshfield’s ice cream stocked across the West Country and beyond, in farm shops and delis, at country fairs and markets, in cinemas, theatres, restaurants and pubs. For the last three years, they have also been supplying all the ice cream for Hard Rock Cafe across Europe, and they even make ice cream for Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London.
Despite selling to some big names, Dawn says they have never aspired to be a ‘high end’ ice cream. “We are very much a family ice cream brand. It’s all about creating a tasty treat, made from good quality ingredients. We want to be proud of what we produce, so we are really fussy about what goes into our ice cream. Flavour and quality are what’s important.”
They made the decision to make Marshfield an organic farm 15 years ago. “It was very much a commercial decision,” explains Dawn. “It cost a lot to do initially and the conversion took some time. We were farming organically for two years before we started seeing any return but now, for us, it’s the only way to farm and we love it.”
Dawn and Will are not a couple to rest on their laurels. They are always looking for new avenues to explore and enjoy collaborating with others. “We love working with people who are as much into food as we are,” Dawn says. “As a food nation, we are growing much more discerning, and so at Marshfield we are constantly revising and reinventing what we do.” Marshfield are currently working with Bristol-based Bar Cake on a range of bespoke ice creams, as well as with Bath’s Ping Coombes, winner of Masterchef in 2014, who is helping Dawn redesign some of their ice creams for the restaurant market.
And in terms of new flavours, they are experimenting with a new lemon tart ice cream, which will probably use shortbread, and are also trialling Christmas flavours such as gingerbread. They both sound so good, I do hope they come into being.
Once the kids had polished off their ice creams, Dawn took us for a quick tour of the factory, which is housed in what once were the stables. Dawn explains that the factory is completely carbon neutral. There are solar panels on all the roofs, all the water used on the farm is provided by their own borehole and heated by a wood pellet boiler, and 75% of their ingredients come from within a 50-mile radius.
While their set-up is by no means industrial in scale, it’s a far-cry from the early days when Will was churning ice cream in the back kitchen. With all the pipes and valves and conveyor belts everywhere, it reminds me of a giant child’s marble run. Dawn shows us where the milk is pasteurised and homogenised (although it does rather please me to hear that Dawn and her family tend to drink raw milk themselves), and where the ingredients are added, like chocolate and sugar, and then where the churning takes place.
All the flavours and colourings are completely natural, but Dawn tells us we might be surprised by some of the ingredients they use. For instance, people expect the Succulent Strawberry ice cream to be a certain colour, which you just don’t get from strawberries alone. So they use beetroot for that all-important rosy hue. The green in the Mint Choc Chip ice cream comes from chlorophyll, while cumin is the source of the yellow in the Funky Banana.
Once we’d looked around the factory and removed our glamorous white coats and blue hair nets, we returned to the parlour for more ice cream. This time Dawn got the girls to concoct their very own sundaes and they truly were in seventh heaven. Mia’s creation featured some Mint Choc Chip and a multitude of other naughtiness, while Jessie went for Heavenly Honeycomb and Chocolate Heaven. I was slightly more restrained with a couple of scoops of Rum and Raisin, featuring jumbo boozy raisins soaked overnight. Just divine.
This is just how ice cream should be. As Dawn says, “What starts off as grass in the morning is churned into ice cream that same afternoon, and is being eaten as an ice cream cone on Weston-super-Mare beach the following day.” Don’t you just love that idea?
I came home with a large tub of Marshfield’s Rich Clotted Cream, which went to good use in strawberry ice cream sundaes with homemade rosemary shortbread, and another tub of Honey and Stem Ginger, the perfect accompaniment to my warm-from-the-oven rhubarb crumble muffins. I promise to bring you the recipes for both the shortbread and the muffins very soon.
Thanks so much to Dawn (and Widget) for making us feel so welcome and treating us to such lovely ice cream. We look forward to visiting again very soon!