Wales On Sunday - - NEWS -

FOR some peo­ple, it is the best ice cream there is. For oth­ers, it’s the only ice cream. To­day, it’s a food as syn­ony­mous with Wales as Pen­clawdd cock­les or Halen Môn. But while those are named af­ter the place they’re found, this ice cream is named af­ter one man.

But how many of us have ac­tu­ally asked our­selves the ques­tion as we sit on the seafront at Mum­bles or in a bustling cafe in Cardiff: just who is Joe? Does he even ex­ist?

It’s a story that goes back to the 19th cen­tury and the ar­rival of the Ital­ians in Wales.

In 1898, a peas­ant named Luigi Cas­carini set off on his trav­els from the Abruzzi moun­tains of south­ern Italy, in­tend­ing to work his way through Europe and on to Amer­ica.

Land­ing at Swansea in the midst of the in­dus­trial era, Mr Cas­carini dis­cov­ered there were no cafes ser­vic­ing the early work­ers of the Swansea val­ley.

He aban­doned his plans to travel fur­ther and de­cided to open a place to serve cof­fee from dawn un­til dusk.

He bor­rowed enough money from an Ital­ian friend to open a gen­eral food shop in Swansea High Street. He was a ded­i­cated worker, open­ing at 4am ev­ery morn­ing to serve the men head­ing to the mu­ni­tions fac­tory in Brid­gend.

But what re­ally set him apart was his home­made ice cream, once de­scribed by Mr Cas­carini’s nephew, En­rico, as con­sist­ing of fresh milk, sugar and corn­flour, which re­sem­bled “wall­pa­per paste”. But that didn’t seem to stop his busi­ness flour­ish­ing.

Mr Cas­carini was a canny busi­ness man. He worked ev­ery hour of the day mak­ing his cafe such a suc­cess that soon he opened five more. When his el­dest son, Joe, was old enough he brought him over to Wales from Italy in 1922, and set him up run­ning his cafe at 85 St He­len’s Road. The orig­i­nal shop is still there.

Joe de­cided to con­cen­trate solely on ice cream – and Joe’s Ice Cream was born.

The other five shops did not pass down the gen­er­a­tions in the same way as Joe’s ice cream cafe, says Lucy Hughes, mar­ket­ing man­ager at Joe’s to­day and part of Mr Cas­cari­nis’s ex­tended fam­ily.

“As the cafe own­ers passed by, so did the cafes them­selves, al­though many peo­ple in Swansea do talk of their fond­ness for Cas­carini’s, on Fabian Way, and its owner, Jenny Cas­carini,” she said.

Af­ter the Sec­ond World War, Joe set about his quest for the per­fect ice cream. He ditched the corn­flour and tweaked the in­gre­di­ents to in­clude only dairy pro­duce. He ap­par­ently tried more than 40 dif­fer­ent types of milk.

He set­tled on a com­bi­na­tion of five dif­fer­ent types of milk, with sugar, a sta­biliser and vanilla ex­tract. And that recipe is as you’ll find it to­day.

“I’m afraid the recipe or tech­nique for mak­ing the fresh vanilla is not shared,” says Lucy. “It has not been changed since Joe Cas­carini cre­ated it, and will not be for as long as the peo­ple of Swansea and sur­round­ings con­tinue to en­joy it just the way it is.”

In 1960, Joe Cas­carini fell ill, and his Ital­ian sis­ter Delia, who had mar­ried Colin Hughes since ar­riv­ing in Wales, helped sup­port the run­ning of the busi­ness. En­rico Cas­carini took on the pro­duc­tion of the ice cream at St He­len’s.

Af­ter Joe Cas­carini’s death in 1968, the busi­ness was passed to Delia Cas­carini and her hus­band Colin Hughes.

By the 1980s, En­rico was work­ing on solv­ing an on­go­ing chal­lenge: the prob­lem with par­lour ice cream is that it doesn’t keep – it has to be bought and eaten on the same day.

But En­rico, who was born in Swansea in 1931, man­aged to cre­ate a soft scoop ver­sion of the vanilla gelato so peo­ple could freeze it at home.

But he was faced with this prob­lem: peo­ple said “this isn’t Joe’s” when they tried his soft-scoop ver­sion. Af­ter years of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, he ar­rived at some­thing which “stands on its own”.

Awards for the ice cream poured in, and Joe’s won the Na­tional Ice Cream Al­liance Awards for three years run­ning for var­i­ous flavours be­tween 2009 and 2011.

En­rico died in Au­gust of this year, aged 86. His two sons, Ste­fano and Luke, and daugh­ter, Carla, live in Eng­land and have not fol­lowed in their father’s foot­steps. But the fam­ily link is still strong.

Colin and Delia Hughes’ sons, Do­minic and Adrian, now own the busi­ness, with Do­minic’s chil­dren, Michael and Lucy on the staff. “We are all part of En­rico’s wider fam­ily,” says Lucy, who is Joe Cas­carini’s great-great niece.

To­day, Joe’s ice cream is a Swansea in­sti­tu­tion. Cather­ine Zeta Jones, who grew up in the city, is a fan, and “go­ing for a Joe’s” is ac­tu­ally a thing peo­ple say.

Many work­ers are fam­ily mem­bers, oth­ers stay for years. Lucy is proud many of the man­age­ment team are women.

The com­pany had a ma­jor re­brand in 2013, but there are no plans to ex­pand for now.

“We do choose to only sell our ice cream into the Welsh mar­ket and re­main ar­ti­san with a strong em­pha­sis on qual­ity,” says Lucy. “This is also guided by our busi­ness still be­ing fam­ily-run.”

Joe Cas­carini and, right, one of the orig­i­nal shops

En­rico Cas­carini at work mak­ing ice cream

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