Sunday, 31 July 2011

Kitty Travers' ices at School of Artisan Food

School of Artisan Food

When did you last taste a really good ice cream?  I mean a real ice-cream with a depth and length of flavour that stays with you long after the last spoonful.  For me it was last Sunday on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire.  We're not talking about faux ice cream which delivers nothing but a comforting slick of cool slipperyness on the tongue, and fills you with regret afterwards.  That will be the one made with palm oil, or worse.  These mass manufacturers' tricks are even more ubiquitous than you might think.

I'm lucky enough to have access to real ice-cream most weeks.  It is so good that I was intrigued to learn what made it so special.  Kitty Travers parks her La Grotta Ices Piaggio van on Maltby Street in the London Borough of Bermondsey most Saturdays.  She offers the best ice creams I've ever tasted - 4 or 5 flavours by the cone, tub or take-home carton.  It was Kitty's flavour combinations which caught my attention - consider marmalade with chocolate sauce; strawberry and orange blossom; peach leaf and opal plum; tarrragon and nectarine.  It's impossible to pass on by.  All are made with top-quality ingredients, and it really shows.

When I heard Kitty was running a course at The School of Artisan Food I seized my chance to learn how to make real ice cream with depth.  I was also hoping to learn how to combine flavours which, to most of us, would not seem obvious matches but which I knew, from my weekly indulgence, really worked.  From a one-day course I thought I was probably expecting too much but it was surprisingly detailed.  In a class of 14, by partnering up, we managed to produce more than 10 ice-creams, from Cornstarch through Milk and Vanillas to Fruit Ices and Sorbets, a Parfait and a non-dairy Granita.  

Given my interest in flavours I was thrilled to make a Blackcurrant and Leaf recipe with my partner for the day, Ian.  We learnt the techniques for infusing and the importance of "ageing" before churning to dramatically improve the result of a milk/cream based ice cream.  We even learnt how to make "Instant" ice cream by utiising the chemical reaction between ice and salt to give an (almost) instantaneous freeze.  The vibrant colour and taste of the "Sunshine Sorbet" had to be experienced to be believed.  Fellow students ranged from a dairy farmer looking to diversify, and a British/Italian baker planning to rediscover his family's ice cream-making roots, to enthusiastic home cooks and lucky recipients of courses as birthday gifts. 

Despite the pace, there was time to check out how the rest of of the class were progressing with the other recipes.  The atmosphere was focused yet fun and we certainly learned a lot in just a few hours.  Kitty's style is relaxed and engaging and she's full of stories of her peripatetic life.  Anyone interested in artisan food will enjoy this course, and if you share Kitty's passion for ice cream you'll get an awful lot out of it.

The base for The School of Artisan Food is the beautiful former fire stables on the extensive Welbeck Estate near Worksop in North Nottinghamshire.  The founding principles of this not-for-profit centre of excellence are based on a belief that communities are forged around food.  Learning where it comes from and how to make it well is vital to our culture.  Knowledge has been passed down from one generation to the next but the skills can be, and are being, lost.  That's why this school is so important.  This is the second course I've taken at The School of Artisan Food.  The administration, the facilities and the teaching have been excellent and the ethos inspirational.  

So, let's ditch the mediocre, and often downright mendacious, in favour of real food - let's get churning!  I'm including this link as it tells you much more about Kitty than I can.  Richard Johnson gives a good insight into her influences and motivations http://britishstreetfood.co.uk/category/lagrotta/
If you crave salted caramel ice cream, and I sometimes do, try the Real France stall at Borough Market. 

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