Award winning Suffolk Meadow ice creamer Katherine Manning
WHEN I turn up at the farm in Walpole to meet Katherine Manning of Suffolk Meadow Ice Creams she is mopping the office floor. She explains that she’s so proud of her new(ish) building she likes to keep it spotless. I step carefully onto a mat and, with an ungainly hop, make it to the chair without leaving a mark, which is a good start to our get together I reckon. The office and production kitchen was built in the summer of 2016 during the height of ice cream demand so it was something of a feat of organisation to move everything without interrupting the flow.
“It was mad,” says Katherine, with a huge smile, “we just worked solidly for days to get everything in place. But it was worth it and now we have a proper base for Suffolk Meadow Ice Cream.”Ice cream has been a sweet treat for decades, first recorded in England in the 18th century. Later Victorian street vendors served ice cream in small thick glass goblets known as ‘Penny Lickers’ which were returned empty for re-use. Food hygiene hadn’t been invented then, of course.
Once upon a time, ice cream came in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry or, the most exotic, neapolitan or tutti frutti. But just look at it now. Katherine checks her list. Suffolk Meadow has nearly 30 varieties, and if that’s not enough they can make almost anything people want as long as they have 12 litres.
“In the summer months we average two thousand litres a week,” she says, “and ironically with all that choice vanilla is still the best seller and my favourite is our chocolate.” For those who don’t know, Suffolk Meadow is one of the finest makes of ice cream around, started in 1989 by Katherine’s parents, David and Colette,using their surplus milk from the family farm. All natural, all local and
totally delicious, a million miles away from the synthetic pap pumped out of mobile vats. Katherine and her brother James both grew into Marybelle, the family dairy business, working hard to keep it profitable. They added cream, yogurts and creme fraiche to their repertoire, and Colette worked on new flavours for the ice cream. It was a slog, admits Katherine, but hard work paid off with a win at the Great Taste Awards in 2013 and landing a contract to supply British Airways. This attracted the attention of the Belgian company Pur Natur and the family decided to sell them part of their business in 2014 and concentrate on the Suffolk Meadow brand.
Katherine mentions her walk-through freezer several times, four to be exact, and it clearly means as much to her as a walk-in wardrobe does to a certain kind of woman. But from experience I understand the thrill of owning a life-changing piece of kit when it makes a vast difference to your working day. While we talk, Katherine keeps a weather eye on what’s happening in the factory next door, visible like a mini movie through the interconnecting picture window. In the arrangement of stainless-steel machines, tables and equipment, Heather, Katherine’s invaluable assistant, is methodically working her way through the day’s schedule.
“Unlike me, Heather has all the recipes in her head, she’s so quick and it’s all done to be the most efficient way of working. I’ll be in there with her when you’ve gone – it’s very companionable and one of the most enjoyable jobs I do.” What’s new in the wonderful world of ice cream? I ask.
“Fantastic new flavours of sorbets and ice cream gateaux which we can make to order, and our new range of frozen yogurts and kulfi, an Indian frozen dessert. There’s a lot going on, but we always need to innovate and come up with different things to keep our customers happy. The ice cream gateaux are fabulous, layers of meringue with flavoured ice cream, and maybe fruit in between, then covered with a thick coat of whipped cream.” Another big grin and Katherine adds: “I don’t have to pretend ice cream is good for you. Everyone knows it’s cream and fruit and flavour. But with my ice cream all those ingredients are as good as they can be. Local milk, of course, and most of the fruit and flavours are from Suffolk too.”
Like any person who runs a successful small business, Katherine turns her hand to everything. When not balancing children and dogs with work, out at shows, on selling trips or up to her elbows in ice cream, she is in the office planning and organising the schedules.
I admire Katherine’s easy way of working, her quiet efficiency and devotion to her family and to the family business. Brother James sees to the financial side, when he’s not working on new projects, or out judging cattle at country shows, Mum works on new flavours with Katherine, and Dad does deliveries. On cue, he puts his head round the door to say he’s off in the van, takes a couple of biscuits and disappears.
“I think he only came in for the biscuits,” says Katherine. “I didn’t need to know he was leaving.” firstname.lastname@example.org
“There’s a lot going on, but we always need to innovate and come up with different things to keep our customers happy”
Catherine Manning at the HQ of Suffolk Meadow Ice Cream. Photo: Sarah Lucy Brown