The c. E170 million ice cream industry in Ireland is constantly trying to get people to eat ice cream at times other than summer: hence the arrival of mars, twix, snickers and all the other ice cream bars.
But try as they may, there is nothing quite like an ice cream on a hot sunny summer's day. The Irish know this better than most, as Ireland has the third highest ice cream consumption per capita in the EU: lucky for our waistlines we don't usually get the sun!
The market is led by big brand take-home ice cream - approximately 58% of total value. In other words, the traditional pint block of HB Vanilla.
Next is what is called in the industry impulse ice creams, which account for 38.7% of all ice cream purchases. These are ice creams for solo consumption, the standard bearer being the magnum.
There is also an export dimension: with exports of Irish ice cream products valued at €11million. The main export markets are the UK and Northern Ireland.
Artisan ice creams only account for a small market share, though this figure is growing. As often is the case however, farmers making or supplying artisan ice creams make an improved margin over those selling onto the creamery for about 20 c per litre.
A successful and indeed blossoming example is the Murphy-Murphy connection in Kerry. The overlapping name between dairy farmer Colm and artisan ice cream makers and retailers Kieran and Sean Murphy is a happy coincidence.
The rest of the connection is a meeting of minds over what quality really is. The ever-expanding Murphy's Ice Cream business was established in April 2000 by the brothers Sean and Kieran, both originally from New York.
Murphy's has a turnover of close to a million euro in sales and 12-20 people employed, depending on the season. They have shops in Dingle and Killarney.
Recently, in glorious defiance of the recession, they opened three scooping counters in prime city center locations in Dublin, Kilkenny and Galway.
Kieran Murphy manages their award winning web presence, while their 2008 Book of Sweet Things is another feather to the bow of the burgeoning business.
They make a mind boggling array of quality ice cream. Their ever evolving range can include the familiar, like mango, chocolate or vanilla to quirky and innovative, like guacamole and pink champagne sorbet. Along with the ice creams, they also sell cakes, coffees, teas, chocolate, and a variety of desserts.
Not only with their product range, their branding and promotion is also an exemplar for the artisan world. Their vibrant little shops positively ooze style, from the buzzy staff to the bright blue themed décor and even the summery sounds on the stereo – all coherent, all adding to the experience.
If you drop by, you quite simply won't want to leave.
But its not just image and good promotion, the basic ingredient of the ice cream is sheer class too. So where do they get their milk?
Kieran Murphy: “Our farmer Colm Murphy contacted us some years back, asking whether we wanted to buy milk of the Kerry cow. Naturally, we were excited by the idea, and became even more excited once we tasted the milk”.
He goes on: “It is so astonishingly creamy and full-flavoured that we could hardly say no. That the breed has so much history and is so rare makes it even better. We contacted our Department of Agriculture inspector for approval, and we have been using it ever since”.
Colm Murphy himself fills out the meeting of minds that took place: “I do the maze in the maize in Dingle” he tells me “and dropped into Kieran's ice cream shop to see if they would take some flyers”.
The Maize in the maze is a great way to while away a few hours with the kids in Dingle. It is what it sounds like – a maze cut into a five acre field of maize. There is a different theme each year – this year they will be celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the GAA.
From that initial flyer run an enduring business relationship was born.
“We got talking, and I mentioned I had Kerry cows. Kieran was genuinely excited - he wondered about the type of ice cream the milk of a Kerry cow would give. So he gave it a go, and was pleased with the result”.
Today, some five years later, Murphy's Ice Cream take about 400 litres of milk a week from Colm Murphy. Colm delivers the milk in churns, which also keeps the waste disposal costs down for the ice cream company.
I asked Colm Murphy about his farm and farming. “ I have 37 acres of my own, and 100 leased, of variable quality, all on the Tralee side of Dingle. I'm farming since 1995, when I had a quota of 17,000 gallons. I'm up to 65,000 now, but with a fragmented farm and 20 cent a litre being paid for milk, there aren't too many options for expansion” he tells me.
One option he did take was including a few Kerry cows in the herd, and later supplying Murphy's Ice Cream. His herd is mostly Freisen, but he has “seven or eight Kerry's. I do think its important that we keep them going as a breed”.
For Colm, “the fact that they were a rare and endangered breed, I just felt that I should be doing my part to keep it alive, especially as a native Irish breed here in Kerry itself”.
Along with the heritage dimension, there are practical considerations too: “They are easily kept, quiet animals. I can out-winter them and they do well regardless of the weather. The Holstein Freisens won't out-winter.”
Colm Murphy finds it ironic that there is so much research into how various global breeds might work well in an Irish farming context, in places like Moorepark: “here we are looking to various EU countries for answers for fertility problems when we might have the solution here – maybe the answer is under our noses.”
Or as he put is as Gaeilge:” Bíonn adharca fada ar na ba thar lear”.
When he gets going, he can be a bit of a bard, can Colm: a conversation with him can meander from the cúpla focail to the price of milk to comparing the conservation efforts humanity engages in: Like comparing the Giant Panda or archaeological excavations to the measly efforts put into rare native farm animals in Ireland like the Kerry cow.
There is evidence that the Kerry cow's milk is healthier than other breeds, due to the smaller size of the fat globules. This is much the same as with Goat's milk.
However, research into the area is so minimal and underfunded, when compared to the rest of the agri-food sector, that farmers with these animals cannot completely put their heads above the parapet to make these sorts of claims.
While the world and the agri-food sector try to get their priorities right, raise a cone to quality, and get thee to an ice cream parlor for a proper artisan treat.
Murphy's ice cream blog: lick me!