With summer around the corner, LAURA LEA headed out to see the ice-cream being made and served here in Gwent.
STEFANO ALEESSANDRO SIDOLI is the fourth in a generation of his Italian family making ice-cream in the south Wales valleys.
The 23-year-old is the latest chapter in the Sidoli’s story, which started more than 90 years ago. Stefano’s great grandfather, Benedetto Sidoli started making ice-cream in the valleys in 1922, after emigrating from Bardi in Italy. He brought with him many of the traditional recipes which the company continues to use today.
The history is given pride of place in the business, with a picture of the founding Sidoli’s workforce on the wall of the Ebbw Vale Sidoli’s Cafe.
The well known ice cream brand lives by their slogan - Made in Wales the Italian way – which certainly seemed apt sat in the cafe with an Americano and sundae while the rain lashed down outside.
“It was all started by my great grandfather,” said Stefano.
“It’s still made the same way with local ingredients - full fat milk and double cream. You can have good ingredients, but you’ve still got to get the right blend. There’s more of an art to it than I ever realised.
“Ours is really rich and there’s no water in it.”
Stefano explained you’ll never find any iciness in their product, unlike some of their cheaper competition. The ice cream has won the silver cup for best in the UK, three times in the last 20 years.
Although they offer more than 40 flavours, it seems the Welsh play it safe as the firm favourite remains vanilla. But for the more adventurous, there is always candyfloss, bubblegum and ginger and mango. Rocky road is the newest flavour to be launched this summer.
So what is the ice cream connoisseur’s favourite? “Salted caramel,” said Stefano, “Although I’m a big fan of mint and apple pie, coconut and amaretto.” So that’s five favourites then.
Scoops are available in tubs, cones and decadent sundaes including the knick-bocker glory and banana split. For the more creative you can even create your own, which people “go crazy for” according to Stefano.
Stefano has been working full time for the last 18 months, but every summer for about ten years before this. He went away to university - where he convinced roommates he had an ice cream tap in his family home - but decided to come back to Ebbw Vale to join the family business.
Stefano’s mother, Jan who runs the cafe said: “It’s good to have fresh blood. It’s quite rare that you get to four generations.”
Looking forward, Stefano said he wanted to focus on expanding the cafe side of the business.
“The pressure is all on me now.”
Stefano said the fabric of the company has changed a lot since his great-grandfather’s days, with greater focus now on the wholesale and cafe chain.
Manufacturing in the same Ebbw Vale factory his great grandfather set up, the company now delivers ice-cream all over Wales and are still expanding. Recently, Sidoli’s landed in Newport market, being sold at John Powell’s newsagents for the first time.
But the chances are if you head to the beach in Wales, you’ll never be too far from a scoop of Sidoli’s.
“Last summer we sole 45,000 litres of ice cream in one day. In peak times, we sell around 1,000 gallons a week,” Stefano told me.
With such a limited season, Stefano admitted one summer can make or break an ice cream manufacturer. Although they admit the recession has seen an increase of people choosing to stay and holiday in the UK instead of abroad.
Mrs Sidoli said: “We are governed by the weather. It’s literally supply and demand.”
Producing on a much smaller scale is the younger company Hapus Icecream on a farm in Machen. Despite opening in 2008 they too have a long Italian history at the bedrock of their business.
It began with an Italian called Primo Bernie who settled in Machen after the war, where he began making and selling ice cream from a cart. In the 1960s the business was taken over by the Minolis, before the current owners, Lewis and Sue Richards took the reins in 1988.
“It goes back years and years,” explained Beth Setters, who works at the parlour. “We converted the old farm stables and the ice cream parlour has been building ever since.”
Sustainability plays an important part in the ethos of the business.
Beth said: “It’s about the quality of the ingredients you put in. We use organic whole milk and real strawberries.
“It’s all made on the farm. You can measure the food miles in steps.”
The parlour serves cones, sundaes and waffles. Hapus ice creams make just seven core flavours: vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, mint, toffee, coffee and an awed-winning rum and raisin.
“Vanilla is always the most popular, but my favourite is rum and raisin - I absolutely love it,” Beth said. “We end up eating quote a lot of ice cream. You’ve got to do some quality control.”
The parlour is open every day between April and September and pops up at lots of local events as well as supplying for private parties, corporate functions and weddings.
Look out for the ice cream at Bedwas Rock this June, the Big Cheese in July and Cardiff’s Out of the Woods festival in August.
Visit Hapus ice cream at Gelli Farm, Machen and Caffe Sidoli’s on Bethcar Street, Ebbw Vale.