As part of our celebration of the eight Welsh Protected Landscapes, David Atkinson follows a food trail in the Clwydian Range AONB
It’s winter over the Clwydian Range. The mist rolls down from the mountains and trees shed their last leaves of the year. I am here to meet Anna Taylor, founder of Chilly Cow Ice Cream in an outbuilding on a rural-idyll dairy farm outside of Ruthin. Inside her dairy it’s time for two scoops of sticky toffee fudge - you see, whatever the weather, every day is an ice cream day for Anna.
Resplendent in chef whites with a dainty white mesh hat covering her hair, Anna explains how Chilly Cow is a true artisan cottage industry. "All the ingredients are added by hand - there is a lot of trial and error and," she adds with a smile, "a lot of tasting to be done."
The two-women team at Chilly Cow produces 160 litres of ice cream per day during peak production periods, taking their milk from the farm’s 70-head herd of Brown Swiss cows and adding ingredients drawn from a 30-mile radius.The ice cream company is just one of the producers in the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB that is part of a burgeoning food trail that highlights the connections between the unique geology of Northeast Wales and the natural produce it yields.
The landscape is lush and well watered with rainfall while the tops of the hills offer a rich pasture for animals to graze. The abundance of heather moorland is even said to lend the mutton and lamb a slightly sweeter flavour.
By tracing a self-drive itinerary around a rural heartland of verdant pasture, sturdy market towns and history-touched hilltops, I’m planning to taste my way around the protected area.
I start my journey at Café R, located at the Ruthin Craft Centre, chatting with the trail’s chairman, David Jones, over cups of Owen & Edwards organic coffee — produced just eight miles away in Denbigh.
“I like the fact I know where my food comes from. I know the people who make it,” says David, a former teacher who now runs a B&B outside Ruthin.
He explains the Clwydian Range Food Trail was founded in 2012 and now has 25 members, mostly small-scale producers and business owners, some of which offer tours and tastings to visitors by arrangement.
In the year ahead, the group plans to open a pop-up shop to take branded samples to food festivals and launch a Clwydian Range breakfast for local guesthouses and cafes to showcase the variety of local goodies. There are also plans for a Clwydian Range branded picnic box for summer.
“There’s a real sense of pride locally,” adds David. “We have chosen to live and work in this place as the landscape is special to us.”
On the Road Over the next couple of days I work my way around the trail, taking in traditional cheese at the Little Welsh Cheese Company, sinking a pint of Moel Famau Ale at the Hafod Brewery and stopping for fortifying Welsh Rarebit and hot chocolate at Caffi Florence at the Loggerheads Country Park.
Finally, I stock up on Clwydian Range lamb — perfect for Sunday roasts — from Williams Butchers in Denbigh.
The range of branded produce from the Clwydian Range Graziers Association helps the conservation of the AONB’s heather moorland. By fostering grazing pasture for their sheep, the graziers support the natural diversity of the moorland habitat. The lamb has a low-food-miles ethos.
“You’re buying from the farmers who actually maintain the landscape,” says sheep farmer Rob Hammond of Glyn Arthur Farm. “I like the way the trail encourages everyone to work together to make the most of the local produce available.”
New Flavours Back at Stryt Fawr Farm, Chilly Cow Ice Cream is preparing a new Honey and Lavender flavoured ice cream using ingredients from other producers along the trail. This adds to the existing range of 12 flavours, plus three limited editions, now selling in over 50 shops, cafes and hotels across the AONB.
The picnic tables wait patiently for summer in the back garden but the small-scale production facility is a hive of activity as Anna gets to grips with the chemistry of perfect ice cream.
“The secret ingredient in ice cream is air. The lack of air in our produce ensures a higher quality with a denser, smoother texture,” explains Anna, who turned her back on a career in banking to run her own business in the shadow of the Clwydian Range.
“It’s just so beautiful here,” she smiles. “We are self sufficient and we look after the land.”
“The same landscape now shapes the flavour of our ice cream,” she adds. “It tastes of home.”