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Gelato Roma

I first wrote about Gelato Roma back in March 2016 and a lot has happened with this exciting Nelson business in the intervening years, so I thought it was time to find out more and tell you about it.

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.

Yuri and Daniela Aristarco (photo: Braden Fastier Nelson Mail & Stuff)

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.”

Yuri and Daniela Aristarco (photo: Braden Fastier Nelson Mail & Stuff)

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.

Published in the Nelson Mail 22.01.20

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2019 Vintage Wines in Nelson

At the risk of repeating myself I love this time of the year, everything in the garden is starting to sprout into life again after being dormant during the winter, the daylight hours are longer, daylight saving has started, the sun is warming us once again and most importantly the first of the 2019 vintage wines are on the shelves for you and me to buy.

A couple of week’s ago I went to the trade tasting session of the Wine Nelson annual new release tasting and with some 120 wines available for tasting, along with a few special bottles some producers had tucked under their tasting tables, I simply wasn’t going to be able to taste every wine in the two hours available.

To get a snapshot of the 2019 vintage across the region I tried a couple of new release wines from each producer and I have to say, my suspicions about a vintage of outstanding quality were confirmed, 2019 wine produced in this region are simply exceptional.

The highlight of the vintage was the severe drought that gripped the region, there was no rain at all between Christmas and when harvest was due to start in early March. This created a number of challenges in vineyards where the soil is stony and free-draining while well established vineyards located on clay based soils came through the drought without too many issues at all.

As happens when you are working with Mother Nature she usually does a few unexpected things so it was no real surprise when it rained just as harvest was due to start. Fortunately most vineyards were in pristine condition, fruit was ready to harvest a week or two earlier than normal and grape growers are getting used to a bit of rain in early autumn so were well set to manage the rain when it did arrive.

While growing conditions seemed to be exceptional the heat was maybe a little too much; warm, humid night-time conditions meant disease was always a risk but most importantly the lack of cool temperatures at night slowed flavour development in the grapes.

The result was grapes in excellent condition with natural sugar levels rising rapidly but grapes that could do with a bit more flavour. In many locations around the region the first burst of rain did a huge amount of good to the fruit, as long as the grapes weren’t too ripe with soft skins the extra water didn’t split the grapes and encourage rot, but it did dilute the sugars a little giving the fruit a chance to develop more flavour as the rains also brought slightly cooler evenings.

The day or two extra that grape growers were able to leave their fruit on the vines has resulted in exceptional flavours in all of the wines I have tasted from the 2019 vintage.

As you would expect, every vineyard is different with fruit ripening at slightly different times and this year was no exception, there were a couple of vineyards where the rain didn’t help some varieties and growers chose not to harvest a few tonne of fruit. A wise move indeed, better to leave compromised fruit behind than compromise your brand by producing substandard wines.

Despite a small amount of fruit not being harvested 2019 was the largest vintage on record in the Nelson region. Some 12,370 tonnes of wine grapes were harvested in the region, an increase of 36% on the small 2018 vintage. It was also 3.1% of the total New Zealand harvest for 2019 and made Nelson the 4th largest producer of wine grapes in the country.

While 3.1% may not seem much we need to remember that Marlborough produces 76.6% (305,467 tonnes in 2019) of grapes grown in New Zealand, Nelson moves ahead of Central Otago and is now only behind Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne in terms of production.

The other notable feature of the 2019 grape harvest in Nelson was how fast it was. In a perfect vintage grapes ripen at different time meaning winemakers can control the flow of wine production in the winery at a nice pace, this year the harvest was short and intense.

For smaller producers the vintage lasted a mere 10 to 14 days with every variety hitting the winery at the same time and while this did put winemakers and facilities under pressure there were also plenty of smiles on tired winemakers faces. The smiles were brought about because of the incredible quality of fruit being delivered from vineyards for them to work their magic with.

Again, it goes without saying some of the larger vineyards couldn’t be harvested before the long days of rain arrived and caused havoc with remaining fruit so imagine just how big the vintage could have been if Mother Nature didn’t have a little cry.

What do the wines 2019 vintage taste like? In a word, beautiful!

My picks for this year – 2019 wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Rosé from Nelson are packed with ripe fruit flavours with refreshing yet soft acidity making them irresistible.

Based on some barrel samples I had recently, when wines like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are released in about 12 months you simply have to buy them, there are some real treats slumbering away in barrels.

Most wineries open their cellar doors after a break for vintage and winter at Labour Weekend so head to www.winenelson.co.nz and download the regional wine map then spend a few days enjoying the beautiful wines on offer in this region.