Pricewatch: Gelato is more than a fancy word for ice cream

On a day out with Gino’s Gelato at Bloom, we learn not to confuse fat-laden, air-filled ice cream with the lighter, softer Italian variety – and also that making it is harder than it looks

Conor Pope with his children Molly (9) and Juliette (7), with Alfredo Dona of Gino’s Gelato at Bloom earlier this month. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Conor Pope with his children Molly (9) and Juliette (7), with Alfredo Dona of Gino’s Gelato at Bloom earlier this month. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

When the offer to make ice cream came, it could not have been timed better. It was the week of our summer, the few days around the June bank holiday, when Ireland was baking in what was the first – and quite possibly only – sustained sunny spell of the season.

So ice cream was high on the agenda for many people. The only catch, we were told, was that the Pricewatch class would have to take place in public, in a sweltering tent at Bloom surrounded by people clamouring for coldness.

But even so, we couldn’t say no. When we arrived in the Love Irish Food pavilion on the site, we were greeted at the ice cream tent by Jonathan Kirwan, the owner of Gino’s Gelato and a man whose family has been making ice cream for three generations.

“We’re here to make the ice cream,” we say.

“Gelato,” he says, looking mildly miffed.

“Gelato? Sure that’s just a fancy word for ice cream.”

Kirwan looks more miffed. That is apparently not the case. And so the lesson begins.

“Gelato” is the Italian word for ice cream, all right, and so it seems logical to assume they are the same. But they’re not. Gelato is soft and smooth, with a clean freshness, whereas ice cream is heavier and sweeter. Gelato is also made with less fat and less air.

A regular ice cream is made with cream as the key ingredient – the hint is in the name – whereas a gelato eschews loads of cream in favour of milk. That means significantly less fat goes into each batch. Most ice cream will have a fat content of at least 10 per cent, whereas a gelato will, typically, have no more than half that, Kirwan explains.

Churning it out

The churning process also matters. In a regular ice cream, the churning goes like the clappers, which leads to more air in the mix. This is known in the business as overrun, and a high-end ice cream might have an overrun of about 25 per cent. A mid-price cream might have an overrun of anywhere between 50 per cent and 90 per cent. That’s why a cheap ice cream melts fast and tastes thin.

Gelato, on the other hand, is churned at the speed of an elderly dowager aunt walking Brighton pier, so there is much less air in the base and more ice-cold flavour in the mouth.

The other difference is that gelato is served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, which gives it its softer consistency. It is also why it is best to eat a gelato as soon as you buy it rather than bringing it home and sticking it in the freezer for a month.

“I think the really key difference is the fact that it is freshly made in-store every day,” Kirwan says, as he watches us make his product with something approaching apprehension.

“If you see something being sold as a gelato in your local supermarket freezer, then it probably isn’t. A typical ice cream will be stored at minus 30 degrees, whereas we freeze ours to minus 16 degrees. That is why it doesn’t last as long and needs to be eaten fresh.”

As Kirwan speaks, I make the ice cream. The process is very simple. I pour an enormous jug of milk into a machine, which slowly churns it for 10 minutes or so. Then I add an incredibly gooey, minty-smelling paste into the mix. Then, when it is ready, I open a shutter and, as if by magic, a freshly made gelato comes oozing out of the machine into a chilled metal tub.

“You’ll need to scoop faster than that,” Kirwan says as the dark-green gelato comes out at a frenetic pace. We struggle to keep up with it and risk having half of the 60 litres we have just made ending up on the floor.

The role Pricewatch is playing is pretty minor, truth be told. Before we got here all the difficult things happened. The organic milk had to be delivered and then pasteurised on site before the process could even begin.

Straight from the cow

When Kirwan is asked why he bothers with organic milk rather than buying cheaper, mass-produced milk, he has his answer ready.

“I think when you taste it, you will see the difference,” he says. “The milk that we use in our gelato comes from the same herd all the time, and 24 hours before it goes into our mix, it was in the cows. You can’t get much fresher than that.

“Because we are getting it all from the same source, we know what the cows are being fed; the consistency is there. And because we control the entire process, from the pasteurisation to the addition of the chocolate sauce at the end, we can stand over everything.”

That is fair enough but, of course, organic milk processed in an ice-cream parlour is going to cost more than a regular 99 bought from an ice cream van, right?

Right.

Kirwan opened his first shop in 2008 and there are now 13 outlets. Gino Gelato prices vary, depending on whether you buy on in a shopping centre or on a high street, but a small cone will set you back €2.70. It is not cheap, but it is worth it.

“We want this to be the best, so we use the best ingredients,” he says. “Everything we can source in Ireland, we source here,” he says. “Everything else we source in Italy. ”

Did his family think he was mad moving out of vans and into bricks and mortar at the height of the economic crash? “They thought I was crazy,” he says, laughing. “My sister, who works out of vans, still thinks I am crazy.”

Pricewatch’s first – indeed only – batch of ice-cream is nearly made. We realise too late that we added too much mint to the mix, so it is strong enough to brush your teeth with. The next step sees us whirl melted chocolate through the ice cream. As soon as the chocolate makes contact with the cream it hardens, so we have to be fast with the mixing to ensure it ripples through properly.

All told, the process takes no more than 20 minutes, which is about as long as it takes to get through the queue of people lined up to be served, and only slightly longer than it took Pricewatch to eat one of the ice creams. And very pleasant it was, too.

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