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23 June 2020

Stéphane Orsoni: "There is less competition for an ice cream parlour in a rural environment"

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The Corsican ice cream maker, a speaker at InterSICOP 2019, recognises that having an ice cream parlour in a tourist place like Bellver de Cerdanya requires you to adapt, but does not mean you will have supply problems.

In Pyreneum you can try artisan ice creams made with typical products from La Cerdanya (Girona) such as yoghurt, honey and mató, balsamic fir vinegar or Ger blue cheese. To make it, Stéphane Orsoni, a speaker at InterSICOP 2019, uses fresh milk and cream from the Cadí Cooperative and he works with small local producers.

Before setting up in a rural environment, the Corsican ice cream maker recommends analysing the availability of raw materials, the quality of local production and the potential for fixed and tourist customers in the area.

1.- Why and when did you decide to open an ice cream parlour in Bellver de Cerdanya?

I arrived in La Cerdanya in 2010 looking for specific weather conditions, since my oldest daughter had asthma at that time. My wife and I fell in love with the region and decided to settle here for the long term. The idea of the ice cream parlour arose after several meetings. In La Cerdanya there has been a dairy cooperative for more than 100 years, I had worked in and managed restaurants for many years (mainly Italian pizzerias) and it is a world that I know well. At that time in France there were already small dairy producers who diversified their production into making ice creams and I thought I could take advantage of Bellver's speciality. So, I shared the idea of opening Pyreneum with a friend, who is a well-known master ice cream maker from the island I was born in, Corsica, and he opened the doors of his workshop to train me, so I could carry out this project. 

2.- What are the advantages and disadvantages for an ice cream-maker of working in a rural environment with a small population?

Bellver, and La Cerdanya in general, is located in a rural environment, but it is also a tourist area. The population multiplies at weekends and during festivals and the holiday season. The clientele is looking for country and mountain leisure activities, but also want to taste local products that have an excellent reputation. So, if there is no tourist activity, the potential number of customers is low, and this is a drawback, but also there is little competition (specifically in this field) and this allows us to make the most of busy periods.

3.- What are the keys to being popular and attracting people from other nearby towns?

Pyreneum was set up with the aim of highlighting and offering an original product with heaps of personality. The potential in tourism and the hospitality sector was and continues to be a market that we want to exploit. We have made our philosophy clear since the beginning: the origin and quality of our products, and little by little we have been gaining popularity. Our presence in restaurants - I want to thank them for giving me a chance from the beginning - also helped us attract people. Currently, during the summer and much of the year, there are people who come to Bellver de Cerdanya to buy our ice creams (we offer a take-away format, which we now also distribute in Barcelona and Andorra) and they take the opportunity to walk around the town, which is very attractive.

4.- Does having an ice cream parlour in a less populated area mean you need to adjust costs and adapt to the tastes of a very specific clientele? or does it give you the freedom to be creative and experiment?

The fact of depending on the tourist season, on trade during the weekend, does require you to adapt. Also, being away from the sea, the summer season is shorter. Our solution is to sell to H&C and in winter we have expanded our range and now we have a creperie and chocolate shop. With respect to our customers, their expectations must always be met. Many of our customers are families, therefore the classics cannot be missing. However, thanks to culinary events and specific requests from some chefs in the region and catering services, I had the opportunity to experiment and propose original products, which are already part of our classics.

5.- How many people are on the team at the moment? 

Two people for production during the summer and three for sales in the shop.

6.- With a small workforce. How is production organised, the orders, the opening hours, etc.?

If we want to maintain quality in our facilities, we have to function on a seasonal basis. There are products that change and that are not available all year round, there is also a need for warehouse logistics for distribution to shops and restaurants, which is handled by a distributor in the area. The hours are limited to weekends, holidays, and the summer. The products are manufactured daily from May to September and adapted to the orders and needs in other periods of the year. 

7.- In your case you work with local and organic products. Does this allow you to always use seasonal products? 8. Which suppliers do you work with?

I don't work exclusively with organic products, but we do always look to work with small producers. All the dairy products (milk, cream, yoghurt, cheese) are exclusively fresh and from producers in the Cadí Natural Park; for citrus fruit we work with producers from the Ebro (integrated production) and this means that you have to buy at harvest time; organic nuts also come directly from the producer, and in the case of seasonal fruits, if we want to maintain quality, we have to adapt to the season. 

8.- Does being away from a city cause any problems when it comes to getting the supplies you need? Do you have to place larger orders or order in advance?

We have to plan orders, but since La Cerdanya is a very touristy area we do not have much difficulty supplying ourselves; on the contrary, we have, a high-quality dairy raw material every day.

9.- Do factors such as the weather influence the normal operation of the ice cream parlour?

Ice cream consumption in Spain is highly influenced by the season, there are formats that are not sold in winter, much less in autumn, but I believe that a commitment to quality can change an ice cream's image. An artisan product with identity and authenticity is no longer a summer hobby, and with the right format and the right publicity it can be offered year-round. In our case, takeaway pots are sold all year round, and are part of the weekend shopping during the skiing season. And, for example, a good vanilla or cream ice cream is always welcome next to a slice of tarte tatin.

10.- What tips do you have for any colleagues who would like to set up shop in a village but haven't done so yet?

We are artisans, we are passionate, but that doesn't stop us being entrepreneurs and the final decision must always be made after studying the potential of the town where we want to set up. In the case of Pyreneum, our commitment was to the identity that the local raw material would provide to the product, although the proximity of the Barcelona market and the tourist potential of the region were also determining factors. The health crisis will probably affect tourism, some areas may take advantage of these changes. People are also likely to be even more concerned about the quality of their food and its origin, and this will create new opportunities. Factors such as the availability of raw materials, the recognised local production, the potential fixed and tourist clientele are essential when taking this step.