Anna Howard has been making ice cream for only 18 months, yet her frozen treats, and one flavour, in particular, has been named as the dairy champion in the Outstanding New Zealand Food Producer Awards. Rebecca Fox asks Howard what it takes to make good ice cream.
Hearing the ice cream that you make mostly by hand described as ‘‘difficult to resist’’ by a panel of top New Zealand foodies is a real thrill, especially when you get the news in lockdown.
Last week, PURE NZ Ice Cream, a Wanaka ice cream-maker, won the top dairy award in the Outstanding New Zealand Food Producer Awards for its boysenberry ice cream. It also got a silver medal for its blackcurrant and coconut gelato.
The company, a wholesale distributor, was started by former chef Richard Bullock and his wife Tracey about 11 years ago. They sold it to Anna Howard and Brian and Lindsay Thomas 18 months ago. It has won silver awards and one gold for its products since the awards began in 2017, but this is the first time it has topped the section.
‘‘We were thrilled to have won a gold medal, but to have now won the category is awesome. It’s nice to have good news at this time,’’ Howard says.
As a Christchurch earthquake survivor, Howard is well aware of the benefits of good news in tough times. She moved to Wanaka nine years ago with her late husband Ross and two children.
Brian Thomas says the awards are a tribute to the hard work of Howard and her team, who do the hands-on work making the ice cream.
For Howard, the win reinforces the work that goes into making ice cream from fresh, natural and as many local ingredients as possible.
‘‘We’ve added some flavours, but we’ve continued the good work of our predecessor.’’
From a hospitality background, Howard has always been a foodie at heart ever since her childhood growing up on a lifestyle block in Akaroa.
‘‘We ate vegetables out of the garden, milked goats. Mum would make cheese. They’ve done an amazing job on that land. I’ve always liked making things.’’
A few years ago she began to think about getting involved in a food venture and began looking for opportunities — then PURE NZ came up for sale.
She got the Thomases on board and they have not looked back.
‘‘It works extremely well for us.’’
David Thomas looks after the business and marketing side of things while Howard, who has a strong creative food background, runs the small factory hidden away in Wanaka.
She has been able to call on her hospitality background, but admits the food production level in this business has been a learning curve.
‘‘I wasn’t daunted by the prospect; making ice cream is process-driven.’’
Howard and her small team make everything from scratch using fresh, natural ingredients with no artificial flavours or colouring.
‘‘It’s egg yolk, milk, cream, cane sugar; authentic ice cream like you’d make at home except we have machinery to churn it into the delicious product.’’
They also make flavours — such as hokey pokey and caramel — themselves before they add it to the ice cream, which is then frozen and scooped by hand into 1-litre containers.
The deep, bright colours of their ice cream come solely from the Nelson boysenberries, Hawke’s Bay lemons or Canterbury honey.
‘‘We keep it as local as we can. The coconut has to come from Thailand as we’re not fortunate to have that in New Zealand. There is no compromise on the quality. We use straight boysenberries with cream and sugar, which gives it that colour, its dense texture. It tastes like summer in a bowl. There is a real intensity of flavour — there is no escaping that it is boysenberry.’’
Howard has added a couple of extra flavours to the range — a lemon curd ice cream and an elderflower sorbet.
‘‘I’m a bit of a lemon fan. There are few things in life that are consistent and lemon is one for me. We didn’t have a lemon flavour when we started, so I quickly added one.’’
Howard has also experimented with different flavours — such as the beetroot and ginger sorbet she entered in the New Zealand Ice Cream Awards creative section — but says it is not one she will bring to market.
‘‘You have to juice a lot of beetroot.’’
Being wholesalers rather than retailers meant they do not have the ability to test flavours on consumers, so they like to keep to their 15-flavour range, although she does not rule out adding to that range in the future.
‘‘I’d love to do something with turmeric and orange or boysenberry with dark chocolate. There’s a bit of tinkering going on the background.’’
There are benefits of working with ice cream, she says.
‘‘We got into a really naughty habit. We can have a spoonful by 7.30 in the morning. Fresh vanilla ice cream on top of a long black ... purely quality control.’’
She gets great satisfaction from seeing a complete box of ice cream go out the door knowing she has been involved in many of the small activities that go into making and packaging it.
‘‘I enjoy the diversity.’’