What does an ice cream company Northern Bloc do in winter?

Ice Cream illustration, Thom Milson, what does and ice cream company do in winter?, Independent Leeds

Stupid curiosities can take hold at any time, curiosities which you just can’t shift no matter how trivial it may be. This specific curiosity developed from a conversation recalling the ice cream van from student days. Come sun or snow storm, its chimes could be heard playing outside and as such, was rumoured to be giving out more than just sprinkles with its 99s.

Its then it struck, aside from this dubious ice cream entrepreneur, what does a company who depend on selling frozen treats do when it gets cold? Do they up sticks and, like a flock of geese, migrate in a V formation in search of warmer climates? Or are there ice cream sellers across the country retraining for an alternative winter career?

Northern Bloc, ice cream, independent Leeds, Leeds

As you can tell, this niggle got out of hand and when most people would turn to Google to resolve their conundrum, this was now so important, the only option was to get the answer straight from the ice cream maker’s mouth. So when an email landed in the mail box with a response from the directors of Northern Bloc, a calming reassurance set in.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a tribe of Mr Whippy’s coasting around the Caribbean touting for business. However, there is a whole lot more to do in winter than you might think.Yes, their ice cream van and bicycle are in hibernation now festival season is over but, like music to our inquisitive ears, they let slip that this is the time they experiment with flavours…

“A lot of what we do over winter is developing and building for spring,” explains Northern Bloc Director, Josh Lee.   It’s at this point he notices that our eyes being drawn to a black board on the office wall with potential flavour combinations scrawled all over. “Those are flavours we’re coming up with,” we’re informed and quickly reminded that they’re strictly top secret.

As we visualise eating our way through the future menu, discussing the intricacies of picking flavour combinations, at first it doesn’t seem all that difficult; “We all sit down and come up with the flavours together. It’s normally based around our personal preferences and flavours which compliment that time of the year.” Josh states.

Surely creating sell out flavours isn’t as easy as a brain storm and a foodie wish list? If it were we’d all be creating deliciously experimental ice cream.

This was answered when Manolo walked out from the lab. A third generation ice cream maker from Italy, a previous winner of the world ice cream championships and so bashfully humble, you know he knows his stuff. Meeting Manolo proved that ice cream is in fact a bit of a scientific art form and, as Josh informed us, you can’t just throw in a punnet of strawberries in and hope for the best; “Because we use real fruit in our ice cream, like strawberry puree or bananas, how much water or sugar they have in the fruit affects the ice cream.

“When you freeze the ice cream you think ‘oh that’s alright it’s frozen’, but what happens after you freeze it is another world. If you don’t have enough fat to water then they don’t bind and it separates in the pot.  You could come back to find frozen water at the bottom and frozen fats at the top.”

This is where Manolo steps in to help avoid any culinary mishaps, as amongst all his other talents, he can add science genius to his CV. He’s so well versed in the molecular structure of ice cream that he lectured at the Gelato University in Italy and even spent ten years producing a natural fibre which recreates the texture of cream, solving ice cream issues for vegans everywhere.

Its mind boggling that so much goes into the creation of your favourite scoop and it’s no wonder Northern Bloc use winter to stay three months ahead on their projects.

Whilst the team experiment away, another big job is to pot the orders, something which the team do by hand until their sparkling new machine arrives.  To say its winter, you’d be surprised at how many winter ice cream eaters there are devouring tubs at an alarming rate;

“Although you might think we shut down, we’re as busy now as we were in part of the summer. There aren’t as many events but we’re in theatres and cinemas and with panto season, it’s really busy.”

With flavours like Black Treacle and Parkin, they’re making whacking out a tub after September seem a lot more acceptable.

But if you’re still not convinced, we’ll leave you with this thought. Russia’s one of the highest consumers of ice cream in the world, so if they can enjoy a scoop or two in their climate, then maybe we just need to man up?



Originally published in the Independent Leeds magazine, issue 1

Words: Louise Fletcher

Photography: John Slemensek

Illustration: Thom Milson

Ham and Friends marketing