Jan Hunter visited dairy farmer-turned-award-winning ice cream producer David Otterburn to find out more about his thriving business.

When I was six my father had a stroke and we sold the family business and moved to my grandmother's farm in Burniston, near Scarborough.

I have idyllic memories of a childhood surrounded by animals, and riding on tractors, with seasons judged by lambing, threshing or when the cows came back to the barn. Although not so good was being chased by geese (I am still wary) and the 5am crowing cockerel.

I have seen for myself, having a sister-in-law who farms in Cumbria, the difficult times for the industry in past years, and I can only admire how our farmers have carried on, and diversified by creating wonderful farm shops and cafés selling local produce, and attractive barn conversions for holiday makers.

It was my privilege recently to meet one such farmer, David Otterburn, of Ryeburn of Helmsley Ice Cream, once a dairy farmer and now the winner of numerous awards, including the Michael Minchella Shield, a leading accolade of the ice cream production world, presented to him as the National Ice Cream champion, by the Ice Cream Alliance (ICA).

The Northern Farmer: David Otterburn with his awards

ICA is the governing body for small and medium businesses in the industry, and provides support and training, and access to this prestigious competition. David joined the group in the early days of the family's new enterprise and has found it invaluable.

"It gave me access to a wealth of knowledge, which was so important when starting up," he says. "You get technical expertise, and support. I have made so many good friends from it and learnt so much. We all try and help each other. The judges give you feedback which you can work on for the following year's competition."

I am interviewing David in his shop and café, built by his father, on the land which was once his thriving dairy farm, and is now an equally thriving family business, with a factory at the back.

The Northern Farmer: The making of Ryeburn ice cream

"I was born in the farmhouse which was five doors away from where we are sitting now," he says. "The shop and café are where the cows were kept. My grandparents were tenant farmers from the Feversham Estate, and it was called Church Farm for obvious reasons. My grandad was the biggest grower of sweet peas. At one time we had 13,000 plants, which would be delivered from Thirsk station to Covent Garden, Birmingham and all over England. He would pick them in the early hours of the morning and I still remember the perfume of all the those plants which we kept in the scrubbed out cow shed in the summer."

By the age of six, David was working on the farm, feeding the calves and generally helping out. He went to the primary school at the bottom of Duncombe Park, and went on to Ryedale School in Beadlam.

The Northern Farmer: The making of Ryeburn ice cream

"I loved sport but I was not very academic," he says. "I played football and cricket for the local teams but I knew I wasn't good enough to make a career out of it. One thing I did know was that I loved working with animals."

Times were changing as he grew up, and tourism was taking off in Helmsley.

"The Feversham Estate wanted us to move the farm because a large car park was needed, as more and more people were visiting the town," says David. "It is now on the site of our old milking shed. The Fevershams gave us extra land for the move. However, as we were setting up the new farm, milk quotas were introduced by the EU. We were only allowed to produce X amount of milk or we would be charged. We knew we would not be able to sustain the farm. However, any milk for ice creams was not included in the quota, hence the change."

David took over the new farm at 18, and his parents started to explore the idea of diversifying into the production of ice cream. Part of the deal of moving the farm was to allow the family to build a factory and shop for the new business. David is very proud of the fact that with a little help, his father built the ice cream factory and the shop. He went on courses and talked to other farmers who had made the change, Brian and Brenda Moore who set up Brymor ice cream, and Mike Shardlow from Beacon Farm. There was a real spirit of mutual help, rather than it being a competition.

"I ran the farm for seven years," says David, "but when the regulations changed again and ice cream became part of the quota, we couldn't sustain the farm and decided to break it up, and sell the animals. It was really hard for me as I had worked with the cows for years. It was an awful time. However I got really involved when I joined the Ice Cream Alliance and saw for myself the passion of the Italian families for ice cream. I went to a massive show in Italy called Sigep, and it opened my eyes to a different world."

He names Michael Minchella and Guido Morrelli, from Northern Ireland, as his inspirations.

The Northern Farmer: Ryeburn ice cream

I ask him what is the biggest difference in his radical change of career.

"I certainly smell better," he laughs, "and my hands are cleaner. I miss the farm but it was hard physical work."

He shows me round the pristine factory and patiently explains exactly how the ice cream is made. His son Lee is making mint ice cream with chocolate chips, which was pouring out, very invitingly, from a large funnel. We move into the shop to see other award-winning ice creams, of which there are many. David has been the runaway winner in the Yorkshire Show for three years.

His future plans are to revamp the shop and the ice cream parlour and extend the patio, as well as looking further into more sustainable packaging.

Then came the moment I had been waiting for, tasting the champion, hazelnut dream ice cream, as well as the pistachio.

All I can say is next time you visit Helmsley, drop in to Ryeburns. You are in for a real treat, but be warned, it's almost impossible to taste just one of the many delicious flavours on sale.