Former goat farmers and ex-landlords of the Fauconberg Arms in Coxwold, Simon Rheinberg and his wife Helen were encouraged to develop what had started out as the couple’s home treat 30 years ago.
Simon said that since they sold the leasehold of the popular country hostelry in 2015 and still live in the village, they have constantly been asked about the ice cream they had served in the pub and where it could be bought.
“It was our own homemade produce. I have always been very passionate about cooking using no additives, no artificial flavourings and everything organic wherever possible. That was the principle we used right at the start when we made it for ourselves and when we made it for our customers when we had the Fauconberg for 10 years.
“Since we had come out of the pub Helen and I had kept getting stopped in the village by those who had really enjoyed our signature, original whisky and honey ice cream. We found it really nice that people were asking and it led us to wondering whether we could turn it into a viable project.
“We already knew how to make it and we knew that we wanted it to remain true to our ethos in every way. Our biggest issue was the name we were going to call it, but eventually we decided on Moonshine.”
Helen said they source most of their produce locally that goes into the making of Moonshine.
“We are big supporters of the Tweddle family of Archdeacon Newton whose cows in North Yorkshire and County Durham produce organic milk. You have only to see their cows to know that they are content and we have always believed that happy animals make for better produce.
“We have almost gone full circle and are back involved in some way with dairy again having had a herd of commercial dairy goats many years ago when we lived in Hartoft.
“Our honey comes from David Hanson of Bay View Bees in Flixton. We really enjoy knowing where the bees have worked because it has an impact on the flavour of the honey. David’s bees work on blackthorn and willow in the springtime and then move on to oilseed rape crops, hawthorn and flowers in the summer before moving to ling heather on the North York Moors and balsam in the Esk Valley.
“We are also fortunate to have a decent-sized garden that allows us to produce nearly all of the fruits we use in our varied ice cream selection.”
While the original ice cream was alcohol-infused and is very popular, Moonshine now has two distinct types as Simon and Helen produce an alcohol-free range.
Helen said the addition of the new range has been just as popular in the three years since they started. “We now call one range ‘with’ and the other ‘without’.
“Alcohol is a very interesting property because it means you can make ice cream without churning and it also stops the cream from freezing.
“Making it without alcohol was a new experience for us and we spent quite a lot of time experimenting, working on our research and development before we were happy with it.”
As Simon and Helen began marketing Moonshine Ice Cream they also stumbled across another market that they had never thought about - dogs.
Helen said their latest product line, now named Moondog Ice Cream is proving that when someone starts a business it can develop in ways never anticipated.
“You can have a business plan but once you start you never really know which way it will go. Our first commercial outlet for Moonshine was an Italian restaurant and we thought that if we could sell ice cream to Italians we were doing okay. Now we’re selling ice cream for dogs!
“When we looked into ice cream for dogs we found that so often the produce around was just like a block of ice, as it cannot include dairy, nor sugar.
“We spent time creating something really palatable that is lactose-free and now it is flying out.
“Customers at cafés, farm shops and tearooms are now ordering Moondog for their canine companions before they choose their Moonshine ice cream.”
Simon and Helen are making their ice cream in Coxwold’s community village hall.
Helen said that this has been an extremely useful way of setting up their rural business and that other new rural businesses could benefit from the same with their village halls, as well as providing additional funds for halls to be maintained.
“Our village hall received funding to put in a state-of-the-art kitchen with one of the reasons being to assist start-ups of new small rural businesses like ours. It is where we conduct all of our ice cream manufacture and packaging. Others could be doing the same. It has certainly helped us. We pay a rent to the village hall, so it is a win-win. We were originally thinking of taking additional premises before realising this was an option.”
Moonshine and Moondog both utilise ingredients grown on farms, which is a source of satisfaction for the couple whose past is entrenched in agriculture.
Helen grew up on her family’s farm at Octon Grange in Foxholes. Her parents later bought the Blacksmith’s Arms at Hartoft near where Simon lived with his mother, having moved up from St Albans when he was 13.
Simon said he first heard about Helen from his neighbour, Jack Dring.
“Jack stopped his tatie wagon outside our house one morning and said ‘You’ll be alright, lad. New owners of Blacksmith’s have two daughters!’ Six months later we were milking goats together.
“Who would have thought we would be back involved with dairy many years later.”