December 3, 2014

Gelato and more Gelato

Mention gelato, and I just about melt! I immediately begin reminiscing about the best gelato I tasted in Sicily, San Gimignano, Urbino, and Bologna … the list goes on.

Gelato resonates with just about everyone of any age, demographic and background. It has an emotional connection to summer, fun, happy times and sweet treats, is made around the world in different forms, such as sorbet, semifreddo and most importantly, can be consumed all year round.

My fascination with gelato began at a young age, especially being of Italian descent, but in 1998 I started working in a gelateria and café, Pepe’s. I worked there for five years learning the secrets to freshly made artisan gelato, sometimes sneaking into the kitchen to assist blending batches of ingredients and mixtures, when I was meant to be extracting espresso!

In July this year, I had the opportunity to visit Carpigiani headquarters in Bologna, Italy and participated in week one of the professional gelato course. Apart from eating gelato every day for five days, the course covered the basic concepts, recipes and production of Italian artisan gelato.There were 20 of us in our group, some with a background in hospitality and patisserie. We were split into groups and supplied with different recipes of the same flavour to create. This helped us understand the difference of recipe combining, taste profiles and overall appearance of gelato. We all ate gelato straight from the churn; it was amazing and delicious! We had to taste it the next and subsequent mornings to recognise the difference in freshness and flavour. No-one refused tasting, and everyone had to try all the 24 flavours each day! My favourite flavour is “gianduia”. It’s a delicate combination of hazelnut, chocolate and sometimes vanilla or cream and is quite different to “bacio”.

The professional gelato course is a four week program designed to train future or existing entrepreneurs how to make Italian artisan gelato, the principles of running a successful gelateria, food and hygiene standards of the laboratory and understanding the production cycles of a gelateria. The course offers theory and practical components and focuses on different types of gelato production, including sorbetto, stick gelato, gelato soft, gelato pastries and frozen gelato cakes. Participants from around the world enrol to complete the professional training with aspirations and plans to open a gelato business or add to their existing patisserie or food business. The courses are held at Carpigiani Gelato University (CGU) in Anzola dell’Emilia, Bologna and conducted in Italian, English and French, German, Dutch, Japanese and Chinese.

CGU was founded in 2003 with a vision to expand the culture of artisan gelato around the world. Meeting with Kaori Ito, manager of Carpigiani University education programs, she explains that artisan gelato production numbers have shifted in the years, including the price of gelato and that a gelateria now offers more products than just traditional or classic gelato. In 1980, classic gelato accounted for 85% of production, 15% gelato cakes and gelato was sold for approximately 7€ per kilo. In 2003, other products were added like small cakes and yoghurt, also adjusting production figures. By 2012, 60% of production was classic gelato, 15% small pastries and chocolates, 9% single portion gelato, 7% gelato cakes, 5% yoghurt, 3% stick gelato, and 1% granita. The price of classic gelato also increased to an average of 14€ per kilo. These figures were based on Italian market research and Carpigiani clients.

CGU are also organisers of the Gelato World Tour. In October 2013, the tour was held in Melbourne, Australia and invited all producers of artisan gelato to enter the competition. This tour travelled around the world visiting eight cities searching for 16 finalists to compete at the world final in Rimini, which took place in September.The overall winner of this competition was a gelateria in Sydney Australia, Cow and the Moon. Interestingly, they worked closely with Single Origin Roasters to identify a specific Kenyan coffee to add to their competition flavour “Mandorla Affogato” (Almond Affogato).

The history of gelato dates back to BC time, with the consumption of snow mixed with sugar syrup “shrb”, and in the 16th Century ice was used as the base for a cold dessert or refreshment and flavoured with sugar, spice essences, herbs, vegetable juices and even wine. It was and still is today named sorbet or “sorbetto” and was mainly enjoyed by royals, monasteries and the rich. Thanks to a Sicilian chef, Francesco Procopio Cuto, he transformed this basic formula, with the addition of other ingredients to create a frozen creamy product called gelato. Evolution also saw the influence of technology and equipment that combined the ingredients to be churned and chilled by machines.

Gelato is gelato to the Italians, and the word does not translate to ice cream; they are two different products. The main differences between artisan gelato and ice cream are:

Gelato is made fresh daily with raw ingredients like milk, cream, chocolate, cocoa, fresh fruit, eggs, and nuts;
Gelato contains less fat and air than ice cream;
It is served at a slightly warmer temperature (-14 Celsius) which heightens flavour and taste perception;
Gelato is only shelf stable for 2-3 days and not intended to be packaged for 6 months;
And the best gelato is free from artificial colourings and additives.

The key composition of artisan gelato is liquid, solids and air and the balance of these to achieve the best tasting, textured and flavoured product.This is not an easy process, and too often gelato is too sweet, melts too quickly, lacks flavour and taste, and has ice crystals in the finished product.These are all recipe and process imbalances. It takes a professional gelatiere to formulate the recipe and produce artisan gelato.

A great gelato is composed of a taste that is specific and real. For example, hazelnut gelato is made with real hazelnuts and pastes, a texture that is smooth, creamy and uniform and a structure that is spreadable and can be scooped. Temperature also plays an important role in artisan gelato. Most display freezer cabinets are set at -12 to -14 Celsius; this assists with the spreadable texture and scooping ability, whereas a bulk freezer can store frozen goods at -18 Celsius, which is a little too cold for artisan gelato.

A gelato base mixture takes time to prepare and it must be pasteurised and aged slightly for up to 12 – 48 hours. The base mixtures are stored in refrigerated units until churning and production time. Pasteurisation is important for killing any bacteria, and it blends and dissolves all the ingredients to enhance the performance of flavour combining. It assists texture of the gelato by breaking down proteins and fats and melting the sugars.

There are ways of recognising good quality gelato. When purchasing gelato, look for products that are fresh, not too airy and don’t look artificially coloured. Pistachio gelato is one of the more expensive flavours to produce, as the nuts themselves are very expensive. It’s common to get a variation of flavour, taste and appearance. Pistachio gelato should have a browny-green colour and not be bright green like Kermit the frog. A bright or artificial green may indicate an inferior product was used in the process with lots of food colouring. It also means that less authentic pistachio paste was used and more a composite of artificial pistachio flavouring. Also, pistachios are sourced from various growing regions and can taste a little different. This is also common in hazelnut or “nocciola” gelato.

Just one week of the course covered enough information and practical experience to begin working in a gelato laboratory. It was very difficult to leave the gelato university – filled with smiling faces, staff, students and associates always happy because they eat gelato every day and their working lives revolve around gelato. Next year Angela Tsimiklis, head of Patisserie at William Angliss Institute (WAI) will be travelling to CGU to complete the four week training program, with plans to incorporate gelato education and training in existing Patisserie and Commercial Cookery programs. In the future, WAI and CGU plan to establish professional artisan gelato training in Australia. I look forward to returning to Italy next year to complete the remaining weeks of the course and to walk around the “piazza” eating gelato.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Bologna, CGU has a “Gelato Museum” that showcases the history of gelato and equipment. It is the only one of its kind in the world and is open to the public. Tours are available all year round for a small fee and conclude with samples and tastings of freshly made gelato.

And finally, always remember gelato is gelato, not ice cream, and “gelati” just means more than one gelato!

Story by Melissa Caia


Carpigiani Gelato Museum

Credits: William Angliss Institute

Carpigiani Gelato University and Gelato Museum


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