The Real Scoop About What’s In Your Gelato
How to differentiate the good stuff from the fake stuff
There’s something to be said about summertime and indulging in what we call “gelato” today. Don’t get me wrong, I Love a scoop of gelato as much as the next guy or gal. A lot. What I don’t love is the fake stuff that passes itself off as gelato for a premium price at that. In some ways, gelato, like any other “commercialized” product has become a commodity. Once you get the sun on your face, hot temperatures, and the tantalizing lure of “swans” made of chocolate chip mint, or bright green pistachio gelato swirls topped with a snazzy pineapple half, folks are hooked, line and sinker. And who can blame them?
But if like me, you long for gelato that tastes extraordinary and doesn’t leave an oil slick on the roof of your mouth, then here’s some advice from one food writer who has asked the WHY behind why so much of today’s gelato (around the world, I might add), basically isn’t the real deal.
This conversation started years ago with Gelato Fresco owner Hart Melvin. This man knows the craft of gelato-making inside out. He studied with Elio Martinuzzi (owner of Umberto’s in Milan) and family in Italy before bringing home the techniques to Toronto. Even in Italy, says Melvin, big companies have gotten a hold of gelato shop owners, so you get a powdered base (usually comprised of freeze-dried whey, some sort of vegetable oil and/or freeze-dried eggs), to which you add water or a little bit of milk and voila- that’s your base for every gelato that you’ll then flavor accordingly. Blah! It’s no wonder that this product just doesn’t compare to the memories I have of a Slow Food gelateria called Gelateria dei Gracchi in Rome by the Vatican City, where everything was bursting with flavor and made from scratch.
The tricky process of making from-scratch gelato has over the last few decades, been taken out of the equation. Big companies like Italy’s Pre-Gel know that they can sell the machinery, the bases, and flavors and that shop owners can charge a small fortune for the end result. But is it as good as home-made gelato that’s made with fresh milk, cream, egg yolk, and say hazelnut paste for a hazelnut gelato? Non signore, it sure isn’t. It’s like comparing a fast food, under-the-heat lamp burger with one that’s made from grass-fed beef, served sizzling hot right off the grill. Night and day. But it’s consistent and that’s what non-artisans are looking for after all. Otherwise, how to justify charging $5.99 for two scoops?
You might be saying to yourself, “Um, what the hell is she talking about? I can’t taste the difference!?” If you’ve only ever had the mass-produced gelato, then with all due respect, your taste buds wouldn’t know the difference. But tasting is believing. So here are a few handy tips I picked up from Hart Melvin to help you weed out the real deal gelato from the unreasonable facsimile:
• Gelato is a delicate creature. It doesn’t do well in direct light and air. At all. Being exposed to both can leave you with a gooey mess and/or ice crystals that will form when warm air hits it (think of what happens to your frozen food when you forget to close the freezer all the way). So, if you see those decadent towers of gelato, piled high and proud, exposed to both air AND light, run, do not walk away. That gelato’s as real as the next episode of reality TV. In other words: not at all.
• What you want to look for instead are individually covered tubs of gelato. The lid is taken off as you order your flavor and each container is cooled and kept dark to avoid the pesky ice crystals. If you’ve ever been to a GROM in NYC or in Europe, that’s what I’m talking about. Closer to home, check out this new, Asian flavor inspired gelato shop called Kekou. No preservatives, no additives, and really unique flavors. All gelatos are made fresh daily, on-site, using time-honored techniques. You can taste the difference 100 times over!
• Candy-coloured, bright bursts of gelato scream “flavor” to you? Think about this for a minute- most pistachio gelato, if made from real pistachios, will be pale, sage green, not that near neon-green you find in most gelato joints. The same goes for strawberry or raspberry- soft pinks, not nuclear fuchsia. Unnaturally bright shades mean food dyes and preservatives. Period.
As always, happy eating and stay cool this summer with gelato that isn’t made of ingredients you can’t come close to pronouncing! Buon appetito!