Gelupo Gelato

When you look at the beautiful design of the Gelupo Gelateria, you can really appreciate the level of detail to which Jacob Kenedy of Bocca di Lupo has gone to commission and create a fun, bright, cheery ice-cream parlour to rival any of the best Italian ones. Making good gelato, granita and sorbet is a great challenge in Britain because they require flavoursome, ripe, seasonal fruits and juices at the peak of perfection in their making. I have been to taste Gelupo’s gelati a few times, and, like many bloggers and food writers, was very interested to find out the background to the story, so I made an appointment to meet the manager of the shop, Simon Macrae, who is also the Business Development Manager for the Gelupo brand.

In the world of artisan food production reporting things do not always run smoothly, however. Simon explained that the company is protective of the specific details of its recipes and methods, so I would not be allowed in the basement where the ice-cream is made, but that he would tell me the general philosophy behind the creation of the gelati. Jacob Kenedy travelled extensively in Italy for a year and spent several weeks with Giovanni Figliomeni at Il Gelatauro, a gelateria in Bologna, Emilia Romagna. It was there that the concept of creating seasonal ice-creams took hold. The owner showed Jacob techniques and recipes, which, in the very competitive world of patisserie, seems very magnanimous.

When I asked Simon about how difficult it is in Britain to get good fruit in the winter, he told me:

“What many people forget is that winter is actually a good time for fruit, albeit imported. We source from Franco Fubini of Natoora the most wonderful oranges, clementines, bergamots, Amalfi lemons and persimmons. We also source from the new Covent Garden market. We could take shortcuts in the business by buying in juice or outsourcing the squeezing, but all the flavour is in the freshness, and we will not compromise on that.”

We tasted a chocolate ice-cream which is made from Tonca beans and bitter almond kernels. In the Bonet gelato {named after a famous Piemontese pudding shaped in a round like a bonnet} they use rum, in the Zabaglione gelato they use Marsala and there is even a Prosecco sorbet. Some of the mixtures on their online list are quite unusual: pumpkin and cinnamon and date and espresso, for example. Others remind me of my northern Italian childhood: fior di latte, pistachio, cassata and Montebianco with chestnuts.

Simon used to be a clarinetist, and his love of music was matched only by his love for food. He spent six months running a tapas bar in Cambridge before coming to work at Gelupo, and the shop has only been open since 2010. He thinks that the principles of making good ice-cream are simple, he trains new recruits quite quickly, but in fact the secret of great ice-cream making comes from years of practice and dedication to the craft. He is very softly spoken, educated and genteel, so far removed from the burly, hairy gelato makers I remember from my childhood holidays around Italy.

His colleague Alice is pouring freshly squeezed clementine juice into a 15kg steel drum that is part of the gelato churning machine, and into it will go the zest as well. Up to 65% of the content of the sorbet is fresh clementine juice. In the case of persimmons {sometimes called Sharon fruit in Britain because they are often imported from Israel} up to 75% of the gelato is made up of soft, ripe fruit pulp, because it is a highly gelatinous fruit. The chefs are encouraged to taste all the time so that they can work out the level of sweetness – some fruits are higher in fructose than others.

There are no eggs used in the process, unlike the gelato I make at home using the River Café cookbook methods {which, frankly, really does make very “eggy” tasting and tough textured ice-cream}.

“Our gelati contain 60% milk, which is delivered fresh every morning. We use approximately nine gallons {nearly 41 litres} of milk a day, and although the fridges are tightly packed the milk does not hang around. It is pasteurised at a temperature of 65-66 degrees Centigrade. In total around 5% of the gelato is fresh cream, which brings the total fat content to 7-8%, much lower than American ice-cream. We use a blend of different sugars which all have unique characteristics in terms of stabilising the mixture or adding flavour and sweetness. Firstly sucrose, which is like a normal table sugar. Secondly, dextrose, which has a finer appearance, helps to bind the texture of the gelato and breaks things down on a molecular level. Thirdly, we use glucose, which adds a sweet gumminess to the texture. Lastly we use the invert sugar, trimolene.”

Invert sugar, or trimolene as bakers call it, obtained by splitting sucrose into glucose and fructose, is not prone to crystallisation and has also a long shelf life of six months. It is concentrated and very thick, resists humidity, acts as an anti-oxidant, increases carmelisation, improves texture, preserves aroma, flavour, and colour.

No colourants or artificial preservatives are added to the mixture, and the colours of the fruit gelati remain vibrant and strong owing to the pigment of the fruit. Simon shows me a container of raspberry gelato and it is deep crimson in colour.

The gelato starts deteriorating in time as it is exposed to air, light and bacteria. At Gelupo they store the ready ice-creams in covered containers, marking the names of the different labels with paper cards. There are 16 flavours of gelato in the counter and they cost from £2 for just one taste and a wafer in a cup or cone, up to £6 for four different tastes.

“In Britain there is this habit of customers going into a shop and wanting to see everything in front of them. This exposure to the elements is very bad for gelato: we keep the lids on, so you can see for yourself how the ice-cream looks fluffy and fresh,” Simon says showing me two tubs, one of sheep’s milk ricotta stracciatella {with 72% Venezuelan chocolate} and one of pine nut and fennel seed gelato. The ricotta tastes earthy, gamey and woody whereas the fennel has a very subtle aniseed taste with undertones of leaf and nut.

“I think that it is good for the customers to see the chefs that come up the stairs with a fresh batch of gelato, spooning it out into the containers and then we scoop it into the cone or the cup for them to eat straightaway, the flavours still fresh and sweet.”

In the background the central piston of the churner is pumping up and down methodically, with rhythmic consistency, whilst delivery men, postmen and staff come and go. Simon tells me about the churner.

“We use a Cattabriga Effe which is a Rolls Royce ice-cream maker which churns on a vertical axis. This means that, unlike a spin drier effect, it does not expand the volume of air in the ice-cream excessively, like American ice-cream. The churner is hard work because the ice-cream needs to be taken out with a spatula and it does take a good twenty to twenty five minutes from start to finish, unlike some machines where you just press a button and the process is finished in a few minutes. The sorbets take a little less time, however. We make approximately 30 litres of ice-cream per hour, and we work a nine hour day. The margins in ice-cream making are not big, and the cost of the raw materials just keeps rising, so you need to sell a fair amount in order to make a profit. And if you calculate the numbers, as a small business, approximately 35 pence in every pound is taken in tax.”

Quite possibly there might be a better mark up on some of the other food sold in the shop, from Sicilian chocolate (Sabadi di Modica) to ready made sauces, pates, cakes and larder dry goods. Coffee is also sold here: caffe allo zabaglione, caffe alla nocciola, and Bicerin, the Piemontese speciality of a hot chocolate, espresso and milk {or with a scoop of gelato}, all made from the handsome, shiny Marzocco coffee machine. There are a few chairs and bar stools to sit on, but space is limited, and one could imagine the shop getting quite crowded in the summer months.

Nina comes from the basement to fill up the box of branded wafers and the cantucci biscotti. She used to work at L’Anima restaurant in the City, with head chef Francesco Mattei, from Calabria in Southern Italy. In the kitchen there were 12 Italian chefs and Nina – and she survived! She told me that her secret for really good gelato is not to try to overload the flavours, keep the formula simple, rustic and clean but let the natural fruit flavour sing. She is particularly proud of her rhubarb crumble ice-cream, which she invented, and through the layers I can taste crunchy, sweet crumble juxtaposed against tart, fragrant Yorkshire rhubarb. She now works in a kitchen with two other girls and a male chef, a much more reasonable ratio.

Gelupo sell their ice-cream not just in the shop but also to restaurants, concessions, festivals and fairs, where they take their beautiful cart, with rococo style stainless steel lids that curl their way upwards to a bubble finial.

Caz Hildebrand of Here Design, a friend of Jacob, designed all the logos and branding imagery of the Bocca di Lupo and Gelupo businesses, as well as the cookbook published by Bloomsbury. Her work has won many awards and accolades, maybe just as many as Jacob. Showing a wolf howling against a backdrop of a mountain {could they be the Alps, pastures, cows and Italian dairy references?} set against very light turquoise green and white, Carrara marble fitting and fixtures, plenty of glass to let in the light and white painted floorboards. The effect is Moorish and Mediterranean, with colours that affiliate themselves harmoniously with the thought of ice cold gelati, granite and sorbetti taken in the cool shade away from the mid-day heat.

For the future Simon told me that Gelupo is hoping to widen its wholesale network as well as keeping standards very high across their whole customer base.

“We are always trying to be a notch higher than everyone else both in terms of flavour innovation as well as service. So, for example, when we get an online wholesale order we always ring the customer to let them know when the delivery will arrive. Then, when the ice-cream containers have been delivered I ring the customer to make sure they are happy with the product. We see social media and bloggers as really key in the business, because it is through foodies being enthusiastic about what we do, seeking us out and writing about us that our name is brought to a wider audience. There are so many places you can go to eat ice-cream, some of them good some of them appalling. But at the end of the day it’s the small details that count, like the cleanliness of the shop, the presentation of the furnishings and the friendliness of the staff.”

As I step out of the door of Gelupo, into Archer Street and the early morning Soho traffic, my taste buds still zinging with fruit and chocolate, I realise there are many important lessons here that many small artisans could learn from. I may have not been allowed into the inner gelato sanctum, but I certainly learned many key points in the art of making some of the very best ice-cream I have ever tasted. Readers, you may not want to try this at home as it really is a science. Just head straight for Archer Street.

Further Information

Gelupo website:

Follow the team on Twitter: @GelupoGelato

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