Fresh Ice Cream at the Farm
A friend and I hopped on the train for a Swiss adventure in the canton of Jura, about two hours northwest from Zürich, to track down the region’s famous Toétché (also known as Gâteau à la Crème Jurassien) and Gâteau du Cloître (tête de moine cheese tart with chives). Sitting overlooking the Doubs River in the medieval town of St. Ursanne, gazing quizzically at the bridge beside us (that happened to be the inspiration for the illustrator of the Lord of the Rings book), eating trout from the water below us, we paged through brochures and maps to determine our afternoon (foodie) destination.
“I got it !” A farm specializing in ice cream… with 450 flavors ?! I dropped my fork and called them immediately. On a Monday afternoon in July, they weren’t exactly in high production mode – or at all. Nor were there crowds of people requesting a visit – or any at all. Blaise Barth couldn’t possibly understand why I wanted to come, “It’s just a farm. It’s not very interesting.” Fast forward to 5 hours later when he was driving us back into town after a laughter-filled afternoon spent together, and me assuring him… “See, told ya it was super interesting !”
After a train to Delémont (home to Switzerland’s largest labyrinthe), a Postbus to Corban, then a walk through the countryside, we spotted a farm up a long road, far off in the distance. “That must be it, no ?!” First greeted by jumping St. Bernards and cute baby kittens, Blandine Barth welcomed us like old friends she hadn’t seen in years. Before we knew it, we were sitting at a picnic table in a small open room, looking out over her family’s 24 hectares and at their neighbors’ cows, who supply the milk for Blandine’s homemade ice cream, of which she makes 200 liters per week.
Beaming with pride, she first had us taste her award-winning Damassine sorbet with a splash of another neighbor’s Damassine liqueur (Damson plums, now in season). It was outstanding, like simply eating the fruit in frozen form, and the liqueur not overpowering or nearly as strong as schnapps. Blandine’s father, a true joker, joined us for our tasting, which then included strawberry sorbet and strawberry ice cream, the former extremely creamy despite its only ingredients being local strawberries and sugar; the latter made with the addition of egg yolks – from her own chickens of course. What happens to all the egg whites then, you wonder ? They go to yet another neighbor, who makes perfect little meringues for Blandine’s vacherins and assorted cakes.
At this point, my friend Amy Eber, Food Scout for World Radio Switzerland, realized she had a program in the making. The Barth’s warm welcome and generosity were entirely genuine; they hadn’t known we would be reporting on their ice cream on air and online. Simultaneously translating from French to English for Amy, asking Blandine 101 questions, joking around with her father, eating every scoop of ice cream placed before me and taking photos as well – was quite an adventure in itself. A seriously delicious one at that. Neither of us had tasted sorbet so flavorful and especially creamy, without additional ingredients to give it that extra unctuous texture. There was a fragrant Cavaillon melon sorbet that wowed us as well (so did the vanilla ice cream, anything but plain), and like every flavor, made without any artificial aromas or color.
Turns out, the Barth family works with Glace de la Ferme, a large company from Holland with artisanal producers in 13 European countries, including 200 throughout Switzerland. Their key message is local sourcing of ingredients. They simply supply their own sugar and recipes (there are 450 !) as a starting point, and then each individual ice cream maker puts his or her own personal touch on it. Hence Blandine’s bronze medal in 2009 at the Concours Suisse des Produits du Terroir for her Damassine sorbet.
What flavor was my favorite ? Coffee. Definitely coffee. Coffee is always my favorite flavor of ice cream, and the Barth’s was smooth, not too strong in coffee flavor and neither bitter nor overly sweet. Grandpa’s favorite was caramel, he told me with a large grin. I tasted that one too, and I certainly see why. What was Amy’s favorite ? Listen to her posdcast to find out !
Last but not least, a visit to any farm wouldn’t be complete without watching some of the 500 chickens lay an egg right before your eyes. Amy and I each bought a carton and enjoyed them in omelets that evening. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
You can call the Barths in advance to visit the farm, to pick up fresh eggs and sublime ice cream, or taste it in various restaurants in the area. I know Amy will be heading back that way for a bottle of Damassine liqueur. I suppose I could join her again… and bring a portable freezer with dry ice !
Glace de la Campagne (part of Glace de la Ferme)
Blandine et Blaise Barth
Ferme Les Esserts
http://www.glacedelacampagne.ch/ (the Barth’s site)
http://www.glacedelaferme.com/ (the Dutch company’s site)