The Italians do all kinds of things really well. They make some of the best sports cars, Italian pasta is second to none and this is the nation that gave us artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Vivaldi, Puccini and Pavarotti.
But, really, the world owes Italy a huge debt of gratitude for giving us the sweet treat our Italian friends call gelato.
On the surface there doesn't seem to be a big difference between ice cream and gelato other than gelato clearly having the cooler name. But look deeper and the two are quite a different treat. According to those who know the frozen dessert world, there's one key difference between gelato and ice cream. Gelato contains less fat — the Italian version of ice cream has a lower butterfat content. Homemade gelato typically has four to eight per cent butterfat compared to the American ice cream standard of 14 per cent butterfat. While gelato has less butterfat, it traditionally has more sugar at 16 to 24 per cent. Most American ice creams have between 12 and 16 per cent sugar.
With the technical talk out of the way Kathryn Shepherd of Lucia Gelato says she can taste the difference between ice cream and gelato. There's no surprise when she says in an interview that she prefers the taste of gelato over ice cream.
Her gelato adventure started after she and her husband, Tony, wondered out loud one day why there wasn't a good gelato place in Whistler. She decided to do something about it.
"I went to Italy that spring and went to gelato school and I've been making it ever since," she says over the phone while enjoying her Labour Day, the sound of kids playing in the background.
Five years later, Shepherd runs a gelato empire.
"It was supposed to be a hobby but it didn't really turn out to be a hobby," she says. "Now the hobby is definitely a business, especially this summer, it was a really busy summer."
Shepherd's gelato is available in 30 different places between Pemberton and Squamish.
When she was asked if she could tell the difference between gelato and ice cream were the same flavours were put in front of her for sampling she doesn't hesitate in saying she could tell the difference, and she figures most people would be able to taste the flavour differences too.
"If you know the difference you would probably be able to tell," she says. "The biggest difference is that gelato has a lot less air in it."
Greg Fischer from Gelato Carina in Squamish says the milk in gelato presents a distinctly different flavour up against the cream in ice cream.
"It is more flavourful," Fischer says of gelato. "The cream from ice cream makes it taste heavier."
Shepherd describes gelato as a denser product.
"Its like the difference between a flourless torte and angel food cake," she says. "The air makes a big difference."
Shepherd comes up with a great description that paints a picture in the brain while also stirring taste buds on the tongue.
"There's a lot less air so it's really heavy and velvety on your tongue, so it feels denser and richer than ice cream, I think," she says.
She and Fischer completely align in the use of milk instead of cream.
Shepherd says gelato is better from a health perspective because it has less fat than ice cream but Fischer notes that gelato has sugar and it is a treat.
But don't start thinking that switching from a twice-a-week ice cream habit to a twice-a-week gelato habit will help shed a few pounds!
According to Shepherd, her best selling gelato is Double Chocolate Mint.
She provides her grocery store customers with 20 different flavours, but she has produced or experimented with more than 300 flavours. Every week she tries new flavours in her kitchen. One time she experimented with licorice
"I wanted to make a licorice ribbon," she says when asked if any of her experiments crashed and burned.
Melting the licorice didn't work and she said it turned into a sticky mess.
"It was an absolute disaster so I have not made licorice again and I love licorice," she says with a laugh.
One of her latest favourite experimentations is creating gelato with booze in it. One successful recipe included Jack Daniels as a key ingredient.
The final thought on gelato is the favourite flavours of the two experts.
"My favourite flavour is espresso," says Shepherd. "It is actually called Two Tony Espresso after my two favourite people; Tony Horn and Tony Del Bosco."
For Fischer the winning flavour is anything involving nuts.
"I'm into nuts. Any flavour with a nut in it I like," says the Squamish gelato guy.
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