The Luxury Ice Cream Company in York
- Credit: Archant
Get the inside scoop from an ice cream expert who is bringing a taste of authentic Italian gelato — with a brilliantly British twist — to Yorkshire.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, most ice cream in the UK came in three decidedly un-exotic flavours: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Ooh, and Neapolitan, which was just blocks of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry combined. Yawn. If you were really lucky, raspberry ripple might be available too. Plus that swirly one that squirts into a cone out of a machine. But now look. There is a vast number of flavours available in Yorkshire’s ice cream parlours, so many in fact that it’s perfectly possible to stand around for 30 minutes ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’, while holding up the queue behind you.
Take LICC, Dawn Argyle’s shop in York. At LICC (which stands for the Luxury Ice Cream Company), Dawn — something of a UK parlour pioneer — makes her own ice cream and, at last count, had devised around 230 different recipes. But that was last week. She might have thought up 10 more by now. Her ice creams have two things in common: they are freshly made on the premises and none of them are boring. For example, there’s pear and ginger cheesecake, orange and cranberry, Oreo, ginger biscuit, Bakewell tart, Malteser, Turkish Delight, jelly bean, bubblegum, custard cream, English trifle, American apple pie, peanut butter jelly, orange and marmalade, and seasonal ones including stollen, mince pie, Christmas pudding, figgy pudding, fig cheesecake and cinnamon.
Dawn also makes a pink ice cream with silver sprinkles called pink princess. ‘That’s a panna cotta,’ she says. ‘So many little girls come into the shop and want a pink ice cream, so we thought we’d make one for them.’ Inspiration for flavours can come from anywhere and everywhere. ‘I’m looking for ideas all the time,’ says Dawn. ‘Customers will say: “Have you thought about doing this one?”; I got the idea for a flavour called tiger’s tail — which is liquorice and orange — from a customer.’
Ice cream, in the UK has been dragged out of the drab, black and white 1950s and into the full colour 21st century. But why is there this incredible variety all of a sudden? It’s partly because we’ve watched the Italians doing it for years, and partly because the British are becoming a nation of ice cream connoisseurs, says Dawn. ‘Do you remember when coffee shops began to take off?’ she asks. ‘There was tendency to think: “Are people that serious about coffee?” But look at those shops now. People love their coffee. Well, I think ice cream is on that same upward trajectory. It would be nice to have a more European approach to it, mind you. In Italy, couples are out promenading at 9pm with an ice cream.’ Not something that’s always possible in a rainy York.
To make a good ice cream you need good ingredients. ‘The quality of the milk and cream is so important — and that’s what we have in Yorkshire,’ says Dawn. ‘We’re lucky, because it’s the best. But you also have to use fresh ingredients.’ So real fresh fruit and meringue in the raspberry meringue flavour for instance. And it helps if the ice cream contains some surprises: LICC’s Bakewell tart ice cream has actual pieces of Bakewell tart in it, and the Malteser ice cream has actual bits of Malteser in it. And when Dawn — and her partner and co-owner, Howard Hawley — make, say, custard cream biscuit ice cream, they’ll pour packets of custard creams into the mix. Dawn’s other tip? Buy Italian. The Italians make the best syrups and pastes, she says — and they also make the best ice cream machinery too, which ensures consistency and quality.
During really busy times, Dawn and Howard will open up the shop at 2am and make ice cream (60 litres of it) throughout the night so that it’s ready to display in the ice cream pans (called napolis) in the morning. Although, in actual fact, they aren’t really making ice cream. They’re making authentic Italian gelato.
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True, gelato is (confusingly) the Italian word for ice cream. But if you compare it to that bland stuff served from some vans, that’s where the similarity ends. ‘Gelato has less fat content than ice cream,’ says Dawn. ‘So it’s a healthier option.’ That’s because more cream is used in ice cream production, giving it a fat content of a least 10 per cent whereas more milk is used in gelato and the flavours in gelato are usually more intense. With gelato, however, the real secret is in the churning process. Ice creams are churned quickly, which means that more air gets into the mix, increasing it in volume (by as much as 90 per cent) and making it fluffier. With gelato, the churn is slower, so the mix is richer, more velvety and denser. It’s also served at a higher temperature than ice cream so its texture is softer.
Dawn, a former interior designer, and Howard became gelato experts by accident. They were looking for a new challenge after the 2008 credit crunch, and got the idea for their own parlour when they visited an ice cream shop while on holiday in Barcelona. ‘The interior of this particular shop was nothing special,’ says Dawn. ‘But the colours of the different ice creams on display just shone — they were dazzling. Ice cream had never registered with me before. But now I thought: “We haven’t got anything like this in the UK”.’ Since opening in 2010, LICC has made (excuse the pun) ripples with the media and has been named one of the best ice cream parlours in the UK by magazines and newspapers. The shop’s magical Willy Wonka style — created by Dawn herself, using her interior design skills — is the icing on the cake. Or the fresh fruit on the gelato.
Yet there are flavours that even Dawn thinks twice about. ‘I’ve been asked if we have apple and Wensleydale ice cream or beetroot ice cream,’ she says. ‘And we could make them — we really could. But that seems a bit faddy and would only appeal to a small number of people.’ Like Heston Blumenthal for instance. By contrast, sales of LICC’s Malteser flavour continue to go through the roof.
Then again, no matter how many flavours are available, some people like what they like. And that’s vanilla. ‘When you’ve got so many flavours on display it’s important to give people the opportunity to try before they buy,’ she says. ‘But it’s funny; some customers will test a spoonful from a range of different ice creams and then say: “Actually, you know what? I’ll just have the vanilla, thanks”.’