Happiness in a cup

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A BOWL full of Carmen’s Best ice cream -- ALEX BALUYUT

By Susan Claire Agbayani

MOZART and Bach can be heard throughout Real Fresh Dairy Farm, where around 200 head of Holstein-Sahiwal cattle are exposed to highbrow culture for their well-being. The classical music supposedly relaxes the herd, improving the quality of milk produced in the sprawling 27-hectare farm nestled in the verdant rolling foothills of majestic Mt. Makiling in Barangay Masaya, Bay, Laguna.

It is this milk, expressed from the teats of concerto-loving cows imported from New Zealand (price tag per cow P140,000), that is used to make Carmen’s Best ice cream. “We take the business of ice cream-making seriously,” said Francisco “Paco” Magsaysay, president of Carmen’s Best.

The ice cream brand is an offshoot of the dairy farm established in 2007 by Mr. Magsaysay’s father, former Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr., and a number of his father’s friends – all of them seasoned businessmen and retired executives. The mission of Real Fresh Dairy Farms, Inc. (RFDFI) was to bring jobs to rural areas. Today, the farm provides livelihood for over 60 families from Laguna and adjacent provinces in Southern Luzon.

The farm started with milk prepared the traditional way: “with all the natural nutrients intact, like what our old folks used to drink and enjoy: unadulterated – with no preservatives and harmful chemicals added, a milk product we could truly say proudly Philippine-made,” as Mr. Magsaysay said. The cows, aside from being entertained by Baroque masters, are cared for by veterinarians from the nearby University of the Philippines Los Baños. Furthermore, their milking is managed by women, because, explained Mr. Magsaysay, women, with their feminine touch, “best understand how difficult the milk extraction process is; they are gentler to the cows.” The pampered beasts are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Weekly, the dairy farm produces roughly 7,000 liters of milk, which is marketed and sold under the name Holly’s Milk. Within three years of operation, the company cornered a sizable slice of the elusive local dairy market formerly dominated by imported products. The farm supplies Holly’s Milk to hotels, restaurants, exclusive schools, and government institutions.

From fresh milk, the dairy farm started playing with flavored milk, cheese, pastillas, and all kinds of milk-based products. Its inventory lists whole fresh milk, low-fat milk, and chocolate milk packaged in HDPE food grade bottles with a shelf life of seven to nine days; butter and kesong puti packaged in high-density polyethylene (HDPE) food grade packs and tubs with a shelf life of nine to 12 days and 14 days, respectively; yoghurt and sour cream; other cheeses too, such as cottage cheese, cream cheese, and Gouda-style cheese.

Happiness in a cup

In 2010, Mr. Magsaysay realized the potential of creating the product he truly loved. “Growing up, there’s one thing that I always had to try: ice cream,” he said. “My travels inspired a lot of the flavors that we offer, such as Hokey Pokey which I tried in New Zealand; and the Spanish Turon in Spain, which is an almond ice cream. Every flavor has a story. And as I travel throughout all the parts of the world, I get to eat more ice cream and try different flavors. I think I’m able to successfully put that in the menu of Carmen’s Best.”

The first three flavors Carmen’s Best offered were fairly common: Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla. They later experimented with the more “complicated” ones: Salted Caramel, Brazilian Coffee, Butter Pecan, and Malted Milk, which are the brand’s best-sellers. Each one is made from the bottom up, starting with milk from the Holstein-Sahiwal cattle of Real Fresh Dairy Farm. Some flavors have more eggs than others, some have more sugar, more nuts.

And so, the Madagascar Vanilla flavor has real vanilla bean pods; Malted Milk has Horlicks and Maltesers; Turkish Baklava has caramelized sugar mixed with butter, almonds, honey, a maple ice cream base, and salty crunchy almonds; Brown Butter Almond Brittle has homemade almond brittle; Nuts About You has almonds, walnuts, and pecans; Butter Pecan has yummy butter and whole pecans; Pistachio is 100% pure pistachio with pistachio bits; and Secret Breakfast is spiked with whiskey. The Pinoy flavor Ube has chunks of ube (purple yam). And, well, runaway favorite He’s Not Worth It (a balm for the brokenhearted) has fudge, nuts, and cookies. A cup costs at least P110; a pint, P385.