Let’s start by having a quick look back at the history of Gelato Roma. The business was established in Nelson by Yuri Aristarco with a couple of business partners after he arrived here in 2011 from Genova, a seaside coastal city in Italy near the northern France border and not too far from Milan.
In Genova Yuri ran a restaurant that had a wine bar on ground floor with a 120 seat restaurant on first floor. He told me Gelato is part of the Italian food culture and a single town in Italy might have 200 gelato producers but people have their favourite producer, just like we have a favourite coffee shop or restaurant, and will travel to the other side of town to get the gelato they favour.
When I had a coffee with Yuri and his wife Daniela, who now run the business by themselves, he told me “There are lots of really good producers in this region and I wanted to make something that reflects who we are while adding something really good to the region too.”
I asked them what makes their gelato special and what are the key differences between ice cream, gelato and sorbet because they do make sorbet as well.
Yuri says the real difference between premium ice cream and gelato is that ice cream has about 18% butterfat content while gelato has a lot less and sorbet has none.
Daniela says, “The fat coats your palate and can disguise the real flavours of the product, too much sugar can also mask the beautiful real flavours so we use a lot less sugar than you may find in similar products.”
Yuri said the second key difference is that gelato has less air infused as part of the churning process. If you let a scoop of ice cream and a scoop of gelato melt the ice cream will seem larger but if you take the air into account the servings are about the same size.”
Less air in gelato means the flavours also appear to be more intense and he said if you have a serving of gelato and ice cream side-by-side you can really taste the difference.
The third main difference is the serving temperature, “it’s tied to the butterfat and air content, ice cream needs to be served at between -18 degrees and -20 degrees while gelato is between -12 and -14. Because it’s not as cold your taste buds detect the flavour more easily.”
Daniela told me their product isn’t too sweet either, “we are very careful about amount and type of sugar we use. As a choice we don’t over-sugar, sugar can be like cream and cover the natural flavours and we want the fruit flavours and other raw ingredients to shine so we rely on the natural fruit sugars with as little added sugar as possible. Yuri is good at keeping the added sugar content as low as possible and we are quite proud of that, however, like any other frozen product it is a treat.”
Sorbets are sweeter than gelato because they are water based and the Gelato Roma berry sorbets have 45% fruit content, “get a scoop and almost half is fruit, zero fat because there is no milk and that makes it suitable for people with dairy intolerance and for vegans.”
Daniela said there are other little differences but these are the most important, “then you take into account the raw materials we use and the recipes Yuri develops that makes our gelato and sorbet a true artisan product.
“Because we’re a small artisan producer we love to work with other local, high quality, producers that are often artisan producers too. Our suppliers are important to us, for the quality of the product we make and also to our story when we are selling it to retailers.”
At Gelato Roma all the berries they use are locally grown, as you would expect they use Pic’s peanut butter and they have just started to use Thorvald and Little River yoghurt. “We don’t want to import from overseas, our philosophy is to add value to ingredients and products already produced here, even though we are now a nationwide artisan business we have a focus on local products” says Yuri.
As expected there are a few things they can’t get locally, like coconut and mango because they simply aren’t produced here, but they do source everything from Nelson first, then New Zealand and overseas as a last resort.
It’s this dedication to using quality, fresh ingredients that I think makes their products special and it’s why they are now selling Nelson produced gelato and sorbet in 23 outlets around New Zealand.
“Our retail partners, who have our display freezers and scoop our gelato, and the three distributors we work with are important to us as we grow. As part of the artisan producer experience we want to provide we give them as much support as we can”
“In the top of the South we partner with five retailers as well as the truck and trailer that are franchised out to an independently owned business. Co-owners Colin Harrop and Barry Mitchell are set up in Tahuna at the beach and go to the markets, fairs, festivals and other events around the region” says Daniela.
Yuri told me they have the production capacity to grow further but they want to keep it as an artisan product, “we have everything in place with the capacity we have now, we can be bigger without compromising on the quality of the product and without using pre-made powders.”
Gelato Roma products are also sought after by chefs who often ask for a custom gelato or sorbet, “a few weeks ago we made a sorbet for Tutu Cider For the Cider Festival, last year we made a sorbet for No1 Family Estate using their sparkling wines for them to serve at the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival, and we made many other sorbets using Sauvignon Blanc from White Heaven , Gewürztraminer from Framingham, Moa cider, beer from Golden Mile Brewery only to mention some.
“We love making these customised products and we can only do it because we are artisan producers. We can decide to make a new product one day and ship it the next day, we have the expertise to be able to do this, Yuri has to develop the recipe to make sure the product flavours are properly balanced and that is the real skill” says Daniela.
The success of Roma Gelato isn’t just limited to the demand they have for their tasty treats, at the New Zealand Ice Cream Awards in 2019 they were awarded five medals as well as the Best in Category for Gelato for their salted caramel gelato.
All this means if you visit one of their retailers you won’t only get a delicious treat you will be supporting a number of other producers in the Nelson region, and I love that.