By Debbie James

Investment, determination, enthusiasm and attention to detail are essential for any dairy farmers aspiring to add value to their milk, as one Pembrokeshire couple are discovering as they launch their own range of artisan ice-cream.

Matthew and Margo Evans run a herd of 350 British Friesians at Lochmeyler Farm, a 300-acre farm near Solva where Margo grew up and where her parents, Glyn and Morfydd, ran a successful farmhouse bed and breakfast business for many years.

They had long toyed with the idea of turning their milk into ice-cream, encouraged by visits to established and successful farm-based producers during family holidays in Cornwall. One concern that held them back was their farm’s remoteness but here were holdings in the middle of nowhere demonstrating that it could be done, and done well.

Children and farm expansion absorbed Matthew and Margo’s time until another visit to Cornwall after a break of several years resurrected that dream.

“We visited a farm that was a similar scale to ours that was producing ice-cream. It gave us the confidence to realise that yes, we could do this,’’ Margo recalls.

What followed was meticulous market research and planning but when they put their mind to establishing the business, their progress was rapid.

“I’m the sort of person that likes to get things done yesterday!’’ Margo admits.

Food Centre Wales at Horeb supported the couple through the process of refining the recipe and everything else that comes with producing a food product for sale.

Testing the market with a small range of flavours was not an option because their ‘tasting panel’ – everyone from their sons, Morgan, aged 15, and 11-year-old Carwyn, other family members, friends and even St David’s RFC – insisted on their favourites.

The result is an astonishing 16 flavours – everything from salted caramel and stem ginger to blackberry and honey as well as the traditional vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, all branded at Lochmeyler Farm Ice-Cream.

Carwyn, who is about to fulfill his dream of living in a working ice-cream ‘factory’, persuaded his parents to include bubblegum in the flavour range too.

Currently the milk is transported to Horeb, where Matthew and Margo make the ice-cream and return it to the farm in industrial-style coolers but, having invested around £50,000 in equipment, they will soon be making the ice-cream on the farm.

All the milk that goes into the ice-cream is produced by their own cows. Because the herd is spring-calving, the butterfat content is not consistently at the desired level so it is topped up with cream during those periods. They are thought to be the only ice-cream maker in Pembrokeshire producing ince cream from their own milk.

The support of Food Centre Wales and Glanbia, the company they sell the bulk of their milk to, has been tremendous, says Matthew.

The grass-based herd produces an annual average yield of 5,700 litres and, although only a very small volume of those litres go into ice-cream, production will be ramped up as the product because established.

Every litre that goes into producing ice-cream will earn the Evans’s around 50p compared to the 27p they are currently paid by their milk buyer. They need to sell 20 litres a day to recoup their investment.

The ice cream is so irresistible and there is much tasting to be done that this could become a challenge for the waistline but Margo has come up with her own strategy to deal with this. “I’ve taken up running!’’ she confides.

As for Matthew, who admits he finds ice-cream and chocolate too tempting to resist, calving 350 cows in less than three months means his running shoes can stay in the box for now.

Matthew and Margo will have their own stand at the Pembrokeshire County Show in August. As well as selling through shops, food outlets and from their very own mobile freezer in the shape of a bike they also hope to build up business around weddings and other events.