The latest scoop on ice cream and why we can’t get enough of the gourmet stuff.
As gourmet ice cream gains popularity, it has become a talking point, a social occasion, and a remarkably profitable industry. ERIN WEINGER examines our fascination with sweet treats.
With a 17°C chill, grey sky and sideways drizzle, a recent summer’s evening in Melbourne could have passed for a different season. But the poor weather didn’t deter Harry Dobson, 27, from biking to Pidapipo, the three-year-old Carlton gelataria with a permanent line out the door. His mission? Three tubs of the “best gelato in the city” to serve at a dinner party.
In any other market, the thermostat would dictate one’s desire for cold, sweet treats. But in urban enclaves throughout Australia, where family-owned gelato shops and small batch artisanal ice cream purveyors are multiplying, dairyladen desserts are no longer just a hot season delicacy.According to Dairy Australia, our country is third in ice cream consumption per capita in the world, behind New Zealand and the US.
“When I first started it was like, ‘Oh, what’s gelato?’” says Diana Kontoprias, who opened her Frangipani Gelato Bar in Sydney’s Cronulla in 2002. She has since gone on to win accolades at Italy’s Gelato World Tour for her pavlova-flavoured version.
Made from whole milk instead of cream, gelato has less fat than ice cream and a silkier texture. Now, Kontoprias says, times have changed. “It’s been particularly good in the last two years.”
Iced treats have become a calorific riposte to the sugar-free movement, and a social media sensation.Top blogger Aimee Song,who boasts 4.3 million Instagram followers, once revealed that her most liked post of all time is a shot of her holding an ice cream cone.
Certainly,the industry’s future looks sweet. Market research firm IBISWorld predicts that revenue in Australia will grow at an annual rate of 13.6 per cent over the next five years, forecast to reach $1 billion. Niche “scoop-andserve” operators will drive a generous portion of that growth.
The market leader is Sydneybased Gelato Messina, known for its snaking weekday evening queues and inventive flavour combinations (like licorice, fairy bread or Jack Daniels and coke). One Seinfeld-like annoyance stems from indecisive fans who insist on sampling endless flavours before settling on one.
Messina founder Nick Palumbo is partly to blame for this delectable predicament. He opened his first store in Darlinghurst in 2002, starting a mini empire with 14 outlets across the country, a Las Vegas location, and a degustation-style dessert bar in Sydney.
But it’s not the only notable player in the game. Seven-year-old Cow and the Moon,based in Sydney’s Enmore,took top honours at the Gelato World Tour in 2014, while Pidapipo, founded by Lisa Valmorbida in 2014, opened its second store in Melbourne’s Windsor last April.
In Hobart, former pastry chef Alistair Wise and his wife Teena run Sweet Envy, offering up ice cream flavours like tahini and honey from their truck, Big Bessie.
At Good Times Artisan Ice Cream in Sydney’s Potts Point, Mercado chef Nathan Sasi includes a rasher of bacon on top of his “Smashing Pumpkin” blend of salted caramel, pumpkin chunks and pralines. Matteo Zini, co-owner of La Macelleria in Brisbane’s Teneriffe, has his own theory as to why we are craving indie ice cream in myriad flavours.
“Gelato, if fresh and genuine, is a product that combines fats, proteins and sugars in a very balanced way,” says the Bologna-born entrepreneur, who studied gelato making in Italy and opened a store after a 2009 backpacking trip. “It’s also the kind of product that creates emotions – specifically happiness.”
So just what flavours are Australians craving? La Macelleria’s sellers include salted caramel, chocolate hazelnut and crema Bologna, a lemon egg custard
made using his grandmother’s recipe. The caramel is cooked from scratch on site and hazelnuts are roasted in-house before being made into a paste.
Hazelnut flavours rank highly at Messina, too, with white chocolate and hazelnut their fourth most popular. The company is even planting its own hazelnut orchard in Seymour, Victoria. Currently, the number one slot is taken by salted caramel and white chocolate. Milk chocolate with pecan fudge sits at number two, and coconut and pandan is third most popular. At Frangipani, salted caramel is the shop’s bestseller. And at Pidapipo, hazelnut takes the cone.
Large ice cream companies are attempting to capitalise on the artisan craze. Victoria-based Connoisseur, which sells through Woolworths, recently launched a collection of flavours in collaboration with Brooklyn ice cream company OddFellows.A “Williamsburg” variety mixes matcha green tea and white chocolate waffle cone, handlebar moustache not included.
True artisan ice cream boasts ingredients that are made from scratch on site – handy to remember when you are paying $10 for an ice cream sandwich at a trendy gelato bar. And, of course, the constantly rotating menu.
Kontoprias has been toying with sticky date pudding and cinnamon fig varieties lately. “Curiosity always gets the better of me,” she says.