Local Heroes

September 29, 2009

Some people come to Streamvale for the farm animals.

Some people come to Streamvale for the farm animals.

As keen observers of the meteorological and astronomical calendars, H and V made the astonishing discovery today that there is only about a month left until the end of October, also known as “Hallowe’en”, also known as “All Souls’ Eve”, also known as “The Day Streamvale Farm Shuts for the Winter”. 

Streamvale is special.  It’s where V and H first discovered the sheer joy that is an ice cream made with good natural ingredients.  It’s not just us, either; we’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t go into raptures about the raspberry sorbet, which really tastes like frozen quintessence of pure raspberry.  (So does the one we made, which we’ll post about later, but Streamvale’s has a better texture than ours, painful as that admission is.)  They also do a fabulous vanilla, and make the point that this is NOT the same as their “natural dairy” which really is “just plain”.  Chocolate, of course; but also chocolate hazelnut, or chocolate orange.  Honeycomb, of course (well, this is Northern Ireland) but also sometimes cocoa and caramel.  And the specialities: lemon meringue, coffee and cinnamon, forest fruit sorbet, tiramisu, Guinness.  No wonder we got hooked, and hooked fast; and they vary the flavours every week or so, so you’ve no chance to build up immunity.

Leaving aside the ice cream (though why would you do that?) they are an excellent example of an enterprising local business, which very much deserves to be supported.  Children love visiting; H and V have a small relative who celebrated both 5th and 6th birthday parties at the farm, where the children were safe, interested (whatever their age), well-fed on the child-friendly good food available in the café, and able to burn off lots of energy on the adventure playground and the haybale slides.  Result: happy, non-fractious children, who have had fresh air and exercise and sleep well for their parents that night; I call that something of a win-win.  We’ve made many visits, sometimes for the full farm experience but more often just to the café for their wonderful ice cream.  The enjoyment is enhanced by the fact that there is a safe, enclosed adventure playground, visible from the café windows, where small relatives can play while H and V sample yet more flavours, and H drinks very acceptable Americano coffee.

But yesterday’s visit was different.  The car park, where usually you take your chance squeezing up against a tree, was almost deserted.  The café, normally crowded and with queues, was almost empty too.  It wasn’t a scorchingly hot day, but Northern Ireland visitors have learned the hard way not to rely on such things – it certainly didn’t seem to make a difference throughout the cold, wet summer.   H and V took advantage of the peace and quiet to chat to Ben, who was staffing the café single-handedly; it was by far the longest conversation we’ve ever been able to have with any of the Streamvale staff, who are always friendly but usually rushing to the next customer.

The peace and quiet was, apparently, because of the latest media panic about E.Coli on farms.  Ben was upset about this; E.Coli exists in the world, inside humans as much as anywhere else, and infection can happen anywhere that simple hygiene isn’t followed.  But farms get blamed.  This has ceased to surprise him, as farms can get blamed for things like rabbits nibbling on fingers placed near their mouths (the fact that rabbits are rodents and thus unavoidably have sharp teeth doesn’t seem to occur to the people who occasionally attempt to sue the farm over such incidents).

It’s hard for a local business trying to make a go of a great idea; despite your enterprise and hard work, something like a tabloid panic can have a huge effect, and can end up destroying some of the diversity that’s so important.  We could just all agree to bring our children only to soft play areas, and make sure they never go anywhere out of doors, or with unfamiliar wildlife, or prickly surfaces – would we really be so much better off?  H and V don’t know a great deal about farming, although we were fascinated to hear Ben’s description of such things as the social hierarchy operating within Streamvale’s red deer herd. 

But we do (coughs modestly) know a bit about ice cream; and Streamvale Farm’s ice cream is superb.  We already knew that.  But here are some fascinating facts we found out from Ben:

  • When making pistachio ice cream, Streamvale have to be very careful due to nut allergies of customers and potential contamination of other ice creams – therefore they make it only at the beginning and end of season. Cleaning the machine afterwards is hard work too.  But V tasted the pistachio (before surrendering to the delights of lemon meringue), and H had a whole cone of it the better to form an opinion, concluding that  it’s wonderful stuff.
  • Streamvale’s ice cream is more dense than others – it’s not been aerated, giving suppliers better value per large tub of Streamvale ice cream (Ben quoted approximate values of 40 as against 80 scoops per large tub).
  • All their flavours are natural – some people expect the artificial flavour and are disappointed by anything else.  Some other manufacturers (nameless) use “vanilla soup”; Streamvale use vanilla pods.
  • Staff like Ben don’t just work in the café; they are involved in the whole farm process.  He also drives the kids on the Barrel Ride, very popular among small relatives and their friends.
  • The quality of the ice cream is already well known.  A recent group of Italian visitors were very impressed both by the ice cream itself, and by the fact that Stephanie the manageress already knew how to make affogato without having to have it explained to her; a rare phenomenon outside Italy, apparently.

As we said, Streamvale is open for another month.  They have a big event at Hallowe’en, but are open every day between now and then as well.  If you have small relatives, make them your friend for life by offering them a trip around the farm; let them feed the baby goats, stroke the rabbits, do some pretend milking and throw some food to the elegant poultry.   (Don’t just take our word for it, either; here’s another blogger describing a visit a few months ago.) Bring some baby wipes for afterwards, or use the washing facilities which are always well equipped with soap and paper towels.  And then stop off for an ice cream.  When your new young friend for life has finished theirs, let them run around the safe playground while you have another flavour, look out over the green hills, and give thanks for local, natural pleasures while we still have them.


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