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Ice cream latest artisanal treat

Dairy farmer touts quality over quantity -- and beer

When Lisa Dyck started making ice cream, she made sure to cover all the basic flavours: chocolate, vanilla and beer.

Malty ale is one of the first three flavours to wind up in pails of Cornell Creme, a new brand of handcrafted ice cream produced by Dyck in small batches in Winnipeg.

The second-generation dairy farmer is the latest Manitoba entrepreneur to take advantage of the growing demand for locally produced artisanal food. While Winnipeg does have independent, high-quality gelato producers, Eva's and Nucci's among them, the local market is largely devoid of artisanal ice cream.

"If you look around at all the ice-cream shops, they just buy commercial product," she said, referring to the majority of parlours. "Why as dairy producers do we not have a handle on the ice-cream market?"

The high cost of acquiring milk and cream likely dissuades other potential ice-cream producers, Dyck theorizes. "The reason it works for me is because I own a dairy and we use our own milk," she said, qualifying that statement by noting everything produced by the family farm, Cornell Dairy, winds up in the local pool.

She purchases milk back from the pool and then goes to work in agricultural-lab space at the University of Manitoba. Her ice cream has only five ingredients: cream, eggs, milk, sugar and natural flavourings such as vanilla beans, chocolate and yes, beer.

She describes the resulting product as premium ice cream, which contains much less air than commercially made "frozen dairy products" as well as most mass-produced real ice cream.

"It is a little like Häagen-Dazs in that it does freeze up a little bit," she said. The upside is a richer, more intense flavour than you get from frozen products that often contain more water and air than milk or cream, she said.

Right now, Dyck is producing about 50 litres a week of Cornell Creme, which is sold at a small number of Winnipeg restaurants, including Billabong in Osborne Village. Within weeks, it will be on shelves at Zesto's, a sandwich-wrap chain, and other retailers, she said.

"I'm constantly being approached by stores to carry it. But whether I go there depends on how I price it and if the public responds to it," she said, noting premium ice cream comes with a premium price tag. "What I would like to do is jump into this full-time."

If Dyck makes that leap, she would become the first Manitoba dairy farmer to do so in decades. "Nobody can remember an independent ice-cream maker in this province," said Teresa Ciccarelli, spokeswoman for the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba.

The move would also make an entrepreneurial statement in the industry, as the number of dairy farms has been dropping in Manitoba, from 474 in 2006 to 328 this year.

Dyck also is the only Manitoba dairy farmer who's both a producer and a processor, albeit a small one. One of the advantages of working on an artisanal scale, she said, is the freedom to choose any flavour she desires, including, for the commercial launch phase, beer.

"The response to it has been phenomenal," she said. "The taste is there. I just have to reduce it, to get the alcohol out and concentrate the flavour."

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