26 Feb 2011

A touch of Italy in Perthshire

There are ways to will spring to arrive in Scotland. One way is to turn the consumption of ice cream into an event. Yesterday we did just that when we hopped in the car and drove more than an hour to Perthshire.

Down a beautiful country road between Perth and Dunkeld, a bright pink and white sign advertises a café and ice cream parlour built in a converted farm building.

The ice cream in Scotland is staggeringly good. Plentiful rain makes for rich grass for the cows and this translates into the high quality of the milk and subsequently, the ice cream.

The Stewart Tower Dairy is the kind of place that can make a day trip feel like a holiday. This is due to the obvious nature of their business; it is first and foremost a farm, with wide fields stretching out to the horizon, a tractor waiting in the yard and hay bales stacked in an outbuilding across the road.

A bit of family friendly charm comes in the addition of small pens containing a group of mischievous goats, who hop onto boulders and even a feeding trough between nibbles of hay.
Despite being just on the cusp of the lunch hour, miles from a main town on a weekday, there were already several cars in the parking lot when we arrived. Within 15 minutes of taking our seats in the café three more groups joined the growing throng of the hungry.

After years of dessert-eating practice, I have come to understand that I cannot dive straight into the sugar. The trick is to have a little something savoury before you begin your homage to glucose gluttony. Queue a lovely bowl of leek and sweet potato soup and some homemade herby scones.
Now that we can prove to our mothers that we’ve eaten our vegetables, let us move on to the main event.

Using milk from their herd of Holstein cows, the ice cream at Stewart Tower Dairy is inspired by Italian gelato, which is frozen quickly in a batch freezer and mixed while it freezes, giving it a smoother texture than ice cream that has been frozen assembly-line style.

When you enter the building you immediately find yourself looking through a wide window into a room where one of these machines is at work. (Don’t lick the glass - they don’t like that).
Their website lists more than 40 flavours of ice cream, 16 flavours of frozen yoghurt and 13 flavours of fruit ices. A small rotating selection of these is on display in the café.

Alas neither the chilli chocolate nor banoffee were available during our visit, so I went for a double scoop combo of rum raisin and creamy hazelnut. Of the two the creamy hazelnut was particularly glorious, not too sweet and also wonderfully smooth.
The menu also lists a selection of more dramatic ice cream desserts, and my beloved went for the Chunky Toffee Fudge: vanilla and toffee ice cream, clotted cream, fudge cubes, covered in toffee sauce and finished with fresh whipped cream and a toffee finger.

The toffee cubes and sauce made this much sweeter and I loved the addition of the clotted cream. However, one of the biggest pleasures of this ice cream is the texture, so in some ways all the little extras are in danger of hindering the experience. On the other hand, you can’t have an ice cream parlour without the option of those great 1950s sundae-style desserts.

Before you leave make time for a wee wander around their farm shop, which has everything from local eggs to made-in-Scotland jams and salad dressings. Next to the door is a freezer highlighting the Stewart Tower Dairy's other passion of ice cream cakes. If our car had a mini-freezer I would have had to take this one home:
I still regret not being able to sample every other flavour which taunted me with obvious deliciousness, particularly the strawberry cheesecake and the raspberry and white chocolate. I can’t imagine visiting Perthshire in the future without stopping here for ice cream. Somehow I will manage to work my way through the entire selection, even if it takes me years.

Our ice cream adventure has obviously tricked spring into showing its face, because today the sun shone strong between banks of high cloud and the breeze had lost its icy edge.

So I’m dying to know, if you had a larger selection to choose from, which one would you not be able to resist?

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