Food hero: meet ice-cream maker Gioia Minghella

Gioia Minghella's family combines Oscar-winning films with award-winning ices. Clare Hargreaves went to meet her

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It’s not every ice-cream maker that names their treats after films such as The Talented Mr Ripley or Cold Mountain. But then it’s not every ice-cream maker whose brother won an Oscar for Best Director.

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Films and ice cream have always gone hand in hand in the Minghella family, which has been churning top-notch treats in the Isle of Wight since 1950.

The late Anthony Minghella, who crafted some of the world’s most celebrated films, spent his school holidays helping his Italian-raised father Edward sell ice creams from the family’s vans. And it’s a long-standing family joke that when Anthony rang his father to tell him he’d gained a first-class degree in drama at the University of Hull, Edward replied “Oh that’s a shame, I had a job waiting for you in the ice-cream parlour. How will you support a wife?”

When Anthony scooped his first Oscar in 1997 for The English Patient, the family rushed out a Champagne Celebration ice- cream, made from the best champagne mixed with passion fruit. Ripley’s Downfall – caramel pieces in dark chocolate – was made for the London charity premiere of The Talented Mr Ripley. A few years later, when Anthony was shooting Breaking and Entering in Britain, his sister Gioia took the ice-cream van to the film set so Anthony could share his family’s creamy delights with his entire cast.

Cool beginnings

It all started when Edward began making ice-cream to sell in his wife’s café in Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Although Edward had been brought up on a buffalo farm in Italy, he’d learned the art of gelateria from the Italian community in Portsmouth, where he’d moved after the war. When his offspring arrived, they were quickly taught how to work the ice-cream van or freeze ice lollies.

Gioia, who now runs the company from near Cowes, laughs as she remembers the time when, as children, she and Anthony sped down to the beach and came back with sand pies, which they quietly threw into the milk churns, ruining that day’s production.

That childish contamination apart, Gioia is proud of the fact that the family’s ice cream has just four simple, natural ingredients: milk, cream, sugar and vegetable-based stabiliser. Ingredients such as water, vegetable fats and oils, additives, and sweeteners such as corn syrup, common in commercial ice creams, are all conspicuously absent.

“The full-fat milk and cream give our ice- cream body so we don’t need to add other ingredients to bulk it out,” says Gioia, speaking from an office that is adorned with posters from her brother’s films. “The problem with those other ingredients is that they drown out the flavours, so they all start to taste the same. I want ice- cream to taste clean and fresh.”

The milk and cream, from Channel Island cows, comes direct from local Isle of Wight farms. It is bought raw so that the milk is only pasteurised once, which helps preserve its flavours and nutrients.

The business is a godsend for the dairy farms involved, many of which would otherwise sell their milk to cooperatives for less than the cost of producing it.

Tasty and nourishing

“Because it’s made from real milk, our ice- cream doesn’t need much sugar, so it’s actually nourishing,” says Gioia. “Ice cream doesn’t have to be bad for you, though of course there are some that I wouldn’t feed to my dog. It’s a matter of knowing what real ice- cream is. The best rule of thumb when buying ice cream is to check it’s made from milk – it’s amazing how little is. Make sure it’s made from ingredients you yourself would use in your kitchen.”

We are interrupted as Gioia’s husband, Richard, brings in a bowl of orange liquid. “That’s clementine puree for our clementine and Cointreau sorbet,” she says, taking a sip with a teaspoon. “I taste as often as I can. It’s vital. For example, one lot of milk can taste very different from another. You can’t just follow the quantities in a recipe.

“Sometimes we get it wrong – last week we made a raspberry and champagne sorbet and our client complained we’d used too much champagne. So we went back and tweaked it.”

Inventing new flavours is where fun and creativity come in. Every day Gioia dreams up new ideas, often after poring over recipe books for inspiration until late at night.

The company now has more than 200 different flavours, with top sellers including Mango Alfonso sorbet and Oriental Ginger and Honey ice cream. There are deliciously wacky combos too, such as White Tiger (white chocolate, cinnamon and chilli) and Gorgonzola and Apples. The latest excitement is the company’s new Truly Blue ice cream. Gioia is not saying what’s in it, but apparently its blue colour is a first. “We enjoy being adventurous,” she says.

Keeping it real

Whatever the flavour, Gioia is adamant it must be real. “When we add fruit, we add real fruit, not essences. We were once banished from the Ice Cream Alliance because our ices contained real strawberries,” she laughs. “Luckily, times have now changed.”

Edward, who still keeps a guiding eye on the business, tells me how the previous evening he had to make a dash to the supermarket to buy fresh pistachio nuts to meet an order for pistachio ice cream. “They only had ones with their shells on, so we had to stay up into the wee hours shelling them.”

I see the ingredients and process for myself as Gioia takes me into the small factory behind her office. It’s every child’s fantasy, with vast tanks of chilled milk from that morning’s milking alongside stainless steel cauldrons, where Richard is performing his ice-cream alchemy. Gioia hands me a spoonful of Minghella’s Famous Vanilla Bean. It’s frothy, light and dreamily creamy.

“The only trouble with making top-quality ice cream is that good, honest ingredients cost money and people aren’t always willing to pay,” says Gioia. “They’ve got used to the fact that, in the supermarket, ice cream costs less than water. If they just want something that’s cold and sweet, they can find stuff that’s dirt cheap, which we can’t compete with on price. We need to educate people about why they’d want to pay more for proper ice cream.

You’ve heard of the Campaign for Real Ale? Well I think it’s about time we started a campaign for real ice cream.”

For Gioia, the job’s greatest reward is working with a product that makes people happy. “You cry into beer, but not into ice- cream. Ice cream is about enjoyment. You smile when you eat it. That’s got to be a nice way to earn a living.”
 

ICE-CREAM MAKERS

Britain has some fine ice-cream makers. Here are some you may like to try:

Minghella, Wootton, Isle of Wight
01983 883545
 

Simply Ice-Cream, Bonnington, Kent
01233 720922
 

Roskilly’s, Tregellast Barton, Cornwall
01326 280 479
 

Alder Tree, Needham Market, Suffolk
01449 721220
 

Marshfield Farm, Marshfield, Somerset
01225 891221
 

Cream o’Galloway, Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway
01557 814040
 

Yorvale, Acaster Malbis, York
01904 706702
 

Shepherds, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire
01497 821898
 
 
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THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ISSUE 37 OCOUNTRYFILE MAGAZINE. TO NEVER MISS AN ISSUE SUBSCRIBE TODAY!