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Icecream man Mike Tarr

By West Country Life  |  Posted: April 12, 2014

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Tarr's ice cream was born by accident in the days before refrigeration and freezers. Four generations later, the award-winning, family-run business in Brislington, Bristol, is going strong, Kate Edser takes a taste of the specialities

Aside from the colourful rows of ice cream tubs, sweet sauces and toppings, almost the first thing you notice about Tarr's shop is the enormous silver trophy that sits high up on a shelf. It's not for keeps, since the winner has to give it back after a year, but it may as well be a permanent fixture here since the business has won it 13 times (including this year) since 1978.

The trophy honours Tarr's vanilla as the best artisan ice cream in the UK, as voted for by members of the Ice Cream Alliance (ICA), a trade organisation. It's a fiercely fought award, with around 300 entries each year.

But that's not the only accolade Tarr's can boast, since the soft "whippy" ice cream has been judged the best in the UK ten times by the ICA since 2000 when entered into the competition by ice cream van customers.

With a heritage stretching back 94 years, it's no surprise that this fourth-generation family business is known and loved all over the south of England and it now sells to mobile vans, restaurants, pubs, hotels and cafés across the South West, South Wales and as far east as Kent.

The current incumbent in charge is Mike Tarr, who described how the business began, from rather humble beginnings.

"The business was started in 1920 by my grandfather, Alfred, who learned to make ice cream from an Italian in exchange for English reading and writing lessons.

"He would then sell the ice cream from a barrel, insulated with salt and crushed ice, on the back of a horse-drawn cart before it melted.

"We moved to the current premises from St Philip's Marsh in 1946 and I started working in the business part-time at 14 and full-time at 16.

"Now, my wife Marilyn, son Bradley, daughter Stacey and my sister Deana all work in the business. My son and daughter are the fourth generation of the family to work here and my dad, Colin, still pops in most afternoons.

"It makes me feel proud that we are still a family business and that we manufacture all the ice cream and ice lollies on site."

And it's quite an operation, though from the outside it's all very unassuming.

Tucked away in a mainly residential area in Brislington, not far off the shopping street of Sandy Park Road, Tarr's combines a retail shop, factory and cold storage facilities.

The old-fashioned little corner shop is stuffed with rows of tubs and pots of ice cream, plus cornets and sweets in jars. Behind is an office and then the factory, which is small, but stuffed to the edges with the latest equipment, which ensures efficient production.

When I visit, Deana is dealing with the morning's production of mint choc chip, while Marilyn is packing newly-made chocolate-covered ice cream lollies into boxes. There's a background hum, as the machinery does its thing, and not an inch of space is wasted.

The best-selling flavour is still the award-winning vanilla, though Mike concedes his personal favourite is the richer, more calorific "dairy" vanilla. Children, he says, love the bubble gum flavour ice cream, partly because it makes their tongues turn blue.

Other flavours include raspberry ripple, strawberry, chocolate, mint, toffee, coffee, cherry, coconut, banana, pineapple, mint choc chip, bubblegum and rum and raisin.

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