John Drayne, who runs the award-winning luxury ice cream business at Draynes Farm in Lisburn, is helping another of Northern Ireland’s most successful local food businesses, Shortcross Gin in Crossgar, celebrate the fifth anniversary of its launch by creating a deliciously original dessert.
A driving force in the company’s growing success in dairy ice cream, John came up with the idea of a Shortcross Gin sorbet aimed initially at the catering sector in which the farm-based business is enjoying tremendous success with its premium ice cream flavours.
Explaining the launch of the new sorbet, John says: “I decided to make the gin and tonic sorbet because I am a massive fan of Shortcross Gin and thought it would be a nice addition to our range and something different, particularly for our foodservice customers, especially as it’s the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Rademon Estate distillery by Fiona and David Boyd-Armstrong.
“The gin and tonic sorbet is a project I had been working on for about a year, making various test batches until I got a taste that I liked.
“I then brought the sorbet to the distillery to see what Fiona and David thought of it and if they would be interested in partnering with us on this novel product. I was delighted when they agreed,” he adds.
“The new gin and tonic sorbet is zero fat and dairy free and is now being offered to hotels and high-end restaurants here. The refreshing sorbet has an aromatic, fragrant, juniper hit,” he adds.
The sorbet, he continues, “features the floral-meadow notes of Shortcross Gin. We carefully blend this exquisite spirit with premier tonic, sugar and our own crystal-clear water in an entirely new and fascinating way.
“The resulting sorbet is full of character. The sugar serves to boost the flavours and enhance the texture, so Draynes Farm Gin and Tonic Sorbet is not overly sweet and retains its crisp, clean-cut bitterness and grassy notes.”
The sorbet is described by the company as “a new twist on the gin revolution currently sweeping Northern Ireland”.
John grew up on the 300-acre farm and loves working with its 250-strong herd, including around 150 milkers of Holstein Friesian cattle known for high quality milk output. The herd also includes Angus bulls.
The performance and health of the herd are closely monitored by a sophisticated computer system and the dedication of its management and employees.
He started developing the ice cream business as part of the family farm’s successful milk processing and distribution business about four years ago.
The farm has been producing, bottling and distributing milk and cream for almost 100 years in Lisburn, Belfast and other surrounding areas.
The family farm operates one of the most technologically advanced milk processing businesses on the island of Ireland that has included an extensive investment in robotic milking systems.
The farm, in fact, is home to three Lely Astronaut A4 milking robots. It means the cows now line up by themselves for milking in the robotic systems. A nutritionist regularly monitors their feed and adjusts it accordingly to ensure consistently high quality milk.
Milk is supplied to other local processors, especially the multi award-winning Abernethy Butter of Dromore, which hand crafts butter to leading restaurateurs, including Heston Blumenthal. One of Blumenthal’s team visited Draynes to see where the cream comes from and said the cows were fed like Olympic athletes with the perfect ratio of proteins and carbs.
Milk is treated as a wholesome foodstuff that responds dramatically to the amount of care, rigour and passion put into its making. Excellent standards of animal husbandry and hygiene underpin the business and its commitment to ensure a stress-free environment for every animal. “We maintain a comfortable and hygienic living environment for our herd. We’ve even laid on an automated bovine back scratcher … which they love! After all, happy cows make great-tasting ice cream,” he says.
“The result is some of the richest, creamiest ice cream imaginable, freshly made every day in our own modern ice creamery. We believe this is ice cream the way it’s supposed to be.”
This attention to detail and sharp focus on quality have resulted in two gold stars in the 2016 Great Taste Awards for its vanilla ice cream.
The new sorbet joins an established portfolio of three and 10 ice cream flavours, the most popular being vanilla and honeycomb. There’s a rum and raisin in the pipeline.
“Doing everything on-farm means we can get the milk and cream to customers quicker and fresher, so it has a longer fridge life with less wastage,” he continues.
The ice cream and sorbets are processed, packaged and distributed directly from the farm using its own fleet of vans to retailers across Northern Ireland and to leading restaurants such as Deane’s and Howard Street, both in Belfast, top hotels including Jury’s in Belfast and venues as diverse as Glenarm Castle and the Ice Bowl at Dundonald.
The creamy desserts can also be found at the impressive new deli at Coleman’s Garden Centre, near Templepatrick.
The farm began producing milk and cream in the 1930s. It was run by brothers Seamus, Aidan and Dermot, who used a horse and cart to deliver the milk around their home, near Lisburn.
The trio had spotted a doorstep business opportunity bringing milk and cream straight from their farm churns into homes. The farm subsequently developed into retail and food service and began delivering to shops, restaurants and coffee shops.
It remains a family business that is managed by Michael, son of Seamus, and his wife Stella, and one which has grown substantially since then.
The business, which currently employs around 30 people, processes around seven million litres of milk a year.