Belfast Telegraph

Famous Northern Ireland ice cream makers on whipping up their favourite summer treats


Daniela Morelli outside Morelli’s Portrush
Daniela Morelli outside Morelli’s Portrush
Tiger Woods
Daniela Morelli with Arnaldo and Tania Morelli
Rosetta Lynton with vanilla and black vanilla ice cream at Graham’s in Dromore
Rosetta Lynton with staff Hayley Graham and Jackie McKnight
Gareth Grey with a selection of Tickety Moo ice creams
Gareth Grey in the viewing gallery of cow accommodation
Assorted flavours of ice cream

By Una Brankin

Three renowned ice cream-making families tell Una Brankin about the secrets of their craft and how the love of the dessert has been passed down through generations

'To celebrate The Open we've made a Tiger's Tail ice cream in honour of Tiger Woods'

Daniela Morelli with Arnaldo and Tania Morelli

The Morelli ice cream dynasty began when Italian entrepreneur Peter Morelli opened a cafe in Ballymena's Stone Row in 1911. Peter and his locally-born wife Annie didn't have any children of their own, so they asked their nephew Angelo to come from Italy and help them run the shops in Portrush and Portstewart, where he'd push his ice cream cart. Five generations later, the Morelli ice cream parlours are an institution in Northern Ireland. Peter's great-grandchildren Marino, Tania, Arnaldo and Daniela Morelli all work at the Morelli factory in Coleraine. Their famous ice cream recently won the industry's most prestigious award at the National Ice Cream Championships. Daniela, sales and marketing manager, says:

We're supporting the Northern Ireland players at Portrush but, because of our Italian roots, we're making a massive mosaic of Francesco Molinari in our Portrush shop with an ice cream topping decorated with marshmallows and Smarties, and an Italian flag in the background.

I'm doing it myself - I'm not wise! Molinari hasn't come into the shop yet, but he'll have to now. I'll be tweeting him. We also do a Molinari Gran Tourino ice cream - it's named after him because we use an Italian gianduia chocolate hazelnut sauce, which was invented in his hometown of Turin.

And in honour of Tiger Woods, we'll have Tiger's Tail ice cream at the golf. It's black vanilla with orange stripes, literally a tiger's colours. It's a limited edition; our double cream vanilla is more in demand. It's our number two bestseller after honeycomb, which overtook it in the flavour charts two years ago.

People in Northern Ireland have a very sweet tooth. Sweet Strawberry is also popular. We make it from real fruit pulp from Italy.

I prefer parm violet, which has become a bit of a cult favourite over the last four or five years. People remember parma violet sweets - they come in and ask for family packs for their freezers and it's very popular in milkshakes.

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It's in joint 10th place on the flavour charts with salted caramel, which we make for Tesco now.

My brothers tried it at a trade show in Italy a few years ago and really liked it. Arnaldo describes himself as 'the wee boss' - he does a bit of everything. Marino is the logistics manager and Tania manages the office.

Dad died three years ago but he's on the wall of the boardroom looking down on me, telling me to wise up at times. Our mother was Italian, too, DeVito. Her grandfather and Danny DeVito's grandfather were cousins, and our cousin, Remo DiVito, works in production at the factory. My son Ronaldo has a degree in business and an idea for the wholesale side.

We're all passionate about the ice cream business. We're used to working together since we were tall enough to reach the shop counter and we have a good work ethic. We all have our own departments in the business and we have set meetings at work. We try not to talk shop outside the factory but if there's a problem outside work hours, we'll sort it out together.

Our latest venture is dairy-free ice cream. Food sensitivities are on the increase and we've been asked about it a lot over the last 18 months. There are a lot of bad, unpalatable dairy-free products on the market, and we wanted to try to get the same texture and taste.

We started making it from scratch six months ago using coconut fat and you can't tell the difference. It has the same texture and we've been getting great feedback. It's healthier, I suppose, but there's still sugar in it.

The more unusual flavours we do would mostly originate as one-offs for catering. We did an Irish black butter for a guy in Portrush, made with Armagh apples and spices, and that kind of became a cult favourite. Then there's sea bucklethorn, which you might think is made with seaweed, but it's actually a sharp citrus plant that only grows along the coast.

We have done alcohol infused ice cream but you're only allowed one per cent in them - no fun!

The secret to a good ice cream business is consistency. We're spoiled in Northern Ireland with the very high standard of ice cream and we're very lucky to have the Ballyrashane creamery beside us.

But anyone starting out in this business must know that it's hard work - and there are no ice cream makers on the Sunday Times Rich List."

‘I’m up at 4am to get ready... I hope that one of our sons will carry on family business’

Rosetta Lynton with vanilla and black vanilla ice cream at Graham’s in Dromore

Graham's Ice Cream got the royal seal of approval in May when Prince Charles and wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, sampled their homemade produce at their shop in Dromore. The family business was established in Rathfriland in 1976 and they have other branches in Newcastle and Kilkeel. Rosetta Lynton, nee Graham, who runs the Dromore shop with her husband, David, says:

The royals were lovely when we met them in May. Prince Charles was away looking at tractors, so Camilla had her salted caramel ice cream. When he came by, he asked to taste it and we gave them a tub to take away. They're easy to talk to, polite and pleasant.

Prince Charles sampled the vanilla and asked about the history of our ice cream. We hadn't time to tell him the whole story, but it all began when my father, Robert, was a breadman. He was made redundant from Mother's Pride and bought what was Havern's in Rathfriland in 1976. The secret ice cream recipe came with the shop - it came from a Havern nurse who got it from an Italian solider during the Second World War.

We lived over the shop - there were seven of us including our parents, and that was one of the reasons the Haverns sold to us. They wanted the shop to continue as a family-run business. We children were very excited as we always called to the shop every Sunday after church, which many still do, or on a Saturday evening for a treat. I'm sure we all put on weight!

Dad set up in Newcastle as well, and then Dromore. He's 80 next year but still goes around the shops doing samples, to make sure the ice cream is still being done the way it always was. It is never frozen - we make it fresh every day with cream from a local dairy in an old-fashioned mixer.

We're not allowed to buy direct from the farmer due to EU regulations. Years ago, we got it straight from the cows, with the cream on top of it, and pasteurised it ourselves.

There was nothing like it. If Brexit goes through and they drop the rule, we'll go back to that.

The mixture is boiled and left to cool down. It's hard work and you have to take your time. This time last year, my husband had only two days off in two months. This year hasn't been as busy, but we have very loyal customers.

Vanilla is still our number one flavour, followed by honeycomb and salted caramel - that started as a trend a couple of years ago.

I make it myself and it's been very popular since Camilla had it.

We have 43 different flavours but there's only so much we can display on the cabinet. Raspberry ruffle, Bounty, Kinder Bueno and banoffee are popular, and 99s, of course.

Rosetta Lynton with staff Hayley Graham and Jackie McKnight

The black vanilla would be one of the more unusual ones - it's sweeter than plain vanilla.

We can't do anything for the lactose-intolerant because we make our ice cream in the old-fashioned way.

We're very aware of allergies and we keep a book of ingredients for customers when they're ordering. Peanut butter is quite popular but we have to be wary.

A while back, we started a Creme Egg flavour for Easter but it went so well, we do it all-year-round now. My favourite is vanilla - good homemade vanilla is hard to beat.

We also do ice cream carts for weddings. We had two last week.

I'm up at 4am every other morning to have everything ready to open the Dromore shop at 6am. We're a newsagent and sweet shop, too. I finish between 2pm and 4pm.

I've two sons and I'd like to think one of them will take over the business and carry on the family name. The 27-year-old is settled in Cork but the 24-year-old - who's travelling in Canada at the minute - wants to come home. We live in hope!

‘Colin Farrell and his son visited... they saw the cows being milked from a viewing gallery’

Gareth Grey with a selection of Tickety Moo ice creams

Tickety Moo ice cream is made at the Grey family Oghill farm near Irvinestown in Enniskillen, using fresh milk from their Jersey herd. Gareth Grey and his brother-in-law Steve Giles set up a farm shop to sell the product 14 years ago and went on to open The Barn in Enniskillen. They also have a small shop in Rossnowlagh, where Gareth and his wife, former Miss Northern Ireland Judith Wilson, and their three children have a caravan. Gareth says:

We've had quite a quite a few celebrity visitors over the years for an actual working farm. I remember getting a call from the Erne Golf resort hotel saying to expect a VIP and his family down. So, we waited around and Colin Farrell appeared with one of his sons.

They went to the viewing gallery where you can see the cows being milked by our robotic system. Nothing is dressed up for the public. What you're looking at is real.

We also had Gary Lineker and his then wife Danielle filming here, and a quite a few celebrity chefs like Neven Maguire, Paul Rankin and Michel Roux.

They come out of interest - our ice cream is used in high-end restaurants from the north coast to Cork, as we're fully traceable and transparent.

My brother Marcus owns the farm and I live over the hedge from it. My wife Judith is involved in the office side of things and she goes round the shops to make sure everything is being done in the right way, and putting the finishing touches on things.

We have an eight-year-old and a set of three-year-old-twins. The eldest is getting very interested in the whole ice cream making process and asking questions, so the business is definitely an option for him when he grows up. I'd welcome him into the business but there are a lot of other avenues, too.

I work in the production room every morning until 12. The mobile stays off in there.

We use very fresh milk, only a few hours old, straight from the cow. There are a lot of EU regulations to follow and plenty of inspections. We've to keep records of everything.

We pasteurise the milk and put it into the ice cream mix, then split it up into different flavours. The shops have 18 flavours but we've had about 60 over the years. Honeycomb is by far and away the best-selling. It will be about 25% of sales on a busy day.

It caught on fast and ice cream makers like it because honeycomb pieces are not expensive. They're far cheaper than other fancy flavours like caramel and chocolate. They can put the cost of ice cream up quite quickly.

Our ice cream is a luxury, premium-priced product because of the fresh milk ingredients. We don't use powders or whey. We have a new white chocolate toffee biscuit flavour, like Twix, which is one of the best we've made in 14 years.

I also like the double caramel fudge crunch, which won a big industry award in 2015, and the white chocolate and raspberry pavlova. We did a Thai green curry one in the past and beetroot flavour, which is a lot better than it sounds. It has an earthy taste.

Assorted flavours of ice cream

We also did a garlic one - I wasn't a big fan of that to be honest.

In the autumn we're launching a new single serving with a spoon for the retail line. We'll start off with honeycomb and then cookies and cream, which is very popular, and strawberry.

You have to have your own angles to succeed in this business and you have to keep on the move.

We have the advantage of the freshness of the milk from our own Jersey cows. It's important to try things but to know when to stop if it's not working. We tried selling half-litre tubs in supermarkets but it was the wrong direction, so we stopped.

As Michael Schumacher once said: 'If you're standing still, you're going backwards. You've got to be going forward'."

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