In my last blog I waxed lyrical about a foodie trip to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire (one of our favourite wee corners of Scotland). VisitAberdeenshire and Mackie’s of Scotland had invited us to spend three, fun-packed December days hanging out in stylish hotels, eating tasty, local foods and sightseeing.
The trip had many highlights, but our favourite experience was a behind the scenes tour of Mackie’s of Scotland HQ at Westertown Farm near Inverurie.
What could be better than touring a dairy farm, that produces delicious ice cream?
Touring an ice cream producing dairy farm with a chocolate factory maybe?
Behind the scenes at Mackie’s of Scotland HQ
The Mackie family have been farming at Westertown Farm since 1912. Four generations later it’s still a working farm, although things have changed a lot.
Mackie’s of Scotland is now a household name and one of Scotland’s favourite food brands. The Mackie family are still at the helm, however the ‘family’ has expanded since 1912. Today, a skilled team of more than 80 employees have joined what’s affectionately known as the ‘Mackie’s family’.
We arrived at the farm on a dreich December morning. It was one of those days that makes you want to coorie indoors eating chocolate and ice cream. As luck would have it we were about to do just that.
We were greeted with a friendly welcome and a hot mug of coffee. Over coffee we chatted to Mackie’s Marketing Director, Karin. Karin would be our tour guide for the morning. Along with brother Mac (Managing Director) and Sister Kirstin (Development Director), Karin is one of the fourth-generation family members involved in running the business.
Hairnets, ice cream cartons and scary machines
Our tour began in the packaging plant, where we donned hi-vis vests, hairnets and shoe covers. It was fun watching Mr G trying to fit shoe covers over his muckle size tens without ripping them to shreds.
Inside the packaging plant, we watched machines making ice cream containers with synchronised precision. It was my first surprise of the day. I hadn’t expected Mackie’s to make their own packaging.
Karin explained that making the packing in-house means it doesn’t create a carbon footprint travelling hundreds of miles by road to reach the farm. Mackie’s also use wind turbines and solar panels to generate power. I love when companies are eco aware, as we all have a part to play in protecting the planet.
My second surprise of the day came when we stood behind a machine adding labels to ice cream cartons. The machinery was behind glass, but when a moving part hurtled towards me at a rate of knots, I nearly jumped out of my skin (much to Mr G and Karin’s delight).
Mackie’s Ice cream production
Leaving the threatening machinery behind, we moved to a room where the honeycomb, used to flavour Mackie’s ice cream and chocolate is made.
I love honeycomb, so was delighted when Karin filled a tub of it for us to get creative with later.
After honeycomb, came what Mackie’s are best know for today – ice cream.
In the 1980s Westertown was a traditional, milk producing dairy farm. With skimmed and semi-skimmed milk becoming increasingly popular, a shift towards skinny milk production was leaving Mackie’s with large quantities of surplus cream.
In 1986 they put that cream to good use when Mackie’s Ice Cream made its debut – hooray.
Today, Mackie’s produce over 11 million litres of ice cream a year and import to Asia and the USA. Things have moved on a lot, from those early days of using up leftover cream.
The ice cream factory also produces ice cubes, which are made using water from a spring on the farm. We recently bought a bag and averted a G&T (ice free) disaster on a weekend break in Argyll.
It was really interesting learning about the ice cream making process and the science behind getting the recipe just right. Good ice cream takes patience, skill and creative flair to master.
We shortly discover that Mackie’s possessed all three.
But before then, it was time to visit their chocolate factory.
Mackie’s Chocolate factory
Inside the factory we swapped hi-vis vests for lab coats and new hairnets. Once Mr G had battled with shoe covers, we were ready to see where the magic happens.
With the annoying Willy Wonka song from Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory playing on repeat in my head, we stepped into chocolate heaven.
Oh my – the minty chocolate aroma was divine.
Every New Year Mr G tests his willpower by giving up a food for 12 months. For 2019 he chose chocolate. Ha ha, he was on a tour of a chocolate factory and couldn’t eat a thing.
The sciency bit
The first room we visited was where Mackie’s chocolate is made. Those in the know would tell you it’s where cocoa liquor is refined, conched and tempered to make chocolate. This process gives chocolate its shine and that nice snapping sound you hear when you break a bar.
Whoever invented chocolate should be commended for their perseverance, as cocoa liquor tastes vile.
Once refined, conched and tempered the liquid chocolate passes through a pipe into the room next door.
There it runs into moulds, is flavoured (if it’s honeycomb, mint etc), sets and is wrapped, boxed and ready to leave the factory.
It was fascinating to see the end to end process that makes a chocolate bar supermarket ready.
Time to taste the goods and get creative
Next up, it was time for some chocolatey fun, with a tasting and a dabble with chocolate making.
Mr G watched as I mixed runny chocolate with honeycomb pieces, before fashioning two round dollops of chocolate.
Honeycomb chocolate made, I tried my hand at chocolate graffiti.
Chocolate play over, it was time to get down to the serious business of tasting.
Karin offered me a square of Mackie’s Milk Chocolate (made from West African top grade cocoa beans) and talked me through how to taste it.
It’s the first time a piece of chocolate has sat in my mouth, longer than a couple of seconds. But like whisky, if you let it sit the flavours come flooding out.
Cleansing my palate with a slice of apple and some water, I worked my way through the four chocolate flavours Mackie’s produce (milk, dark, mint and honeycomb). I thought mint would be my favourite, but it was pipped at the post by milk which was smooth, creamy and very moreish.
So moreish in fact that I was pleased to discover that Scottish Sainsbury’s, Co-op and ASDA stores stock all Mackie’s chocolate flavours in 120g bars.
Now I can indulge myself this winter (and spring, summer, autumn) with my favourite chocolate.
And now for some Mackie’s ice cream
And just when I thought our tour couldn’t get any better, it was time to eat ice cream. Knowing he’d be able to participate put a spring back in Mr G’s step, as we headed towards the kitchen where the scrumptious ice cream flavours sold at Mackie’s 19.2 are created.
Although Mackie’s don’t offer factory tours to the public, you can still experience the joy that is Mackie’s chocolate and ice cream at Mackie’s 19.2. The company’s first (and hopefully not their last) ice cream parlour, located in Aberdeen, 19.2 miles away from Westertown Farm.
There you’ll be able to try Mackie’s delicious chocolate that’s not only available by chocolate bar but is also used in its hand–made chocolate ice cream flavours, hot chocolate and even on chocolate on tap ready to be poured over your ice cream.
You’ll also be able to view ‘Poised’ – a huge Leopard sculpture by Andy Scott, the artist behind Scotland’s iconic Kelpies, which watches over Mackie’s 19.2.
A unique(ish) and ‘super’ ability
We began with a taste test. Could we correctly identify the real dairy ice cream from two samples.
The first sample was warm (for ice cream), fluffy textured and sweet. The second was cold, smooth and tasted like an ice cream I loved in childhood. Logic told me dairy ice cream would be gloopy so I went for sample A, while Mr G chose sample B. I’d overthought the tasting and was wrong. Oh how Mr G gloated.
Sample B was Mackie’s Real Dairy Ice Cream, the number one luxury ice cream in Scotland. Sample A shall remain unnamed (it wasn’t Mackie’s) and I won’t be adding it to my shopping basket any time soon.
Next, Karin did a test to find out if we had what it takes to be Mackie’s taste testers. We were handed a small white strip (known as a PCT strip) and told to place it on our tongue for a moment.
Mr G looked perplexed – nada. I thought the same until I removed the strip from my tongue. Suddenly, there was a putrid taste in my mouth that kept getting stronger.
It turns out I had the genetic makeup of a super taster, while Mr G was a non-taster. Finally I’d beaten him at something. 20% of the population are non-tasters, 60% are tasters and 20% are super tasters with finely, tuned taste buds.
It’s beginning to taste a lot like Christmas
After I claimed the metaphorical ‘Super Taster Extraordinaire’ crown, it was time to get down to the serious business of sampling different flavoured ice creams (including one that was top secret at the time).
We oohed and ahhed our way through samples of the Mackie’s ice cream flavours sold in supermarkets, including raspberry ripple, chocolate, honeycomb and Scottish tablet.
Next, came festive flavours made exclusively for Mackie’s 19.2. First, a tasty fruity liqueur (alcohol free) flavour. Then, a mystery flavour we had to try to guess. It was green and tasted like pistachio – It wasn’t. We gave up guessing, which is just as well as we’d never have got the correct answer. It was pine needle flavour. That’s right, Christmas tree ice cream. And very tasty it was too. So, if you find yourself in Aberdeen this festive season, pop into Mackie’s 19.2 and try a Christmas tree cone.
The final flavour we sampled was Christmas trifle. They always say, save the best till last and this was our favourite. It was heavenly. The texture and flavour were like the jelly soaked sponge layer (the best bit) you get in a Christmas trifle.
All good things must come to an end
And there, our tour of Mackie’s of Scotland HQ ended on a high. The three hours we’d spent there had flown by. Our visit had been interesting, fun and a gastronomic delight.
We said goodbye to Karin and left Westertown Farm clutching a bag filled with Mackie’s chocolate, my own chocolatey creations (which were rather tasty) and crisps. Yip, Mackie’s make crisps too.
Ice cream, chocolate, crisps and ice for the perfect Scottish G&T – the ultimate winter night in kit.
A huge thanks to Karin for taking time out of her busy schedule to spend a morning with us.
If this blog has made you yearn for a foodie break too, I have some good news. VisitAberdeenshire has teamed up with Mackie’s to give one lucky person the chance to win a fabulous break for two in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. That’s not the only prize up for grabs either, you could also win a visit to Mackie’s 19.2 and a year’s supply of delicious Mackie’s chocolate.
Until next time ……