Tiny spoons, big taste

About two years ago, I was fortunate enough to travel to Italy with a few of my good friends. We were celebrating our liberation from university and spending some quality time together before setting out on paths that would eventually take us all over the country. Oh, and in at least my case, ensuring that the last bit of my student loan didn’t go to waste. (Hey, travel is the highest form of education, right?)

We all fell in love with this beautiful country; I finally had a chance to put my Italian language course into action (note: I am, in fact, terrible with languages, so please do not test my abilities), and we all indulged in the clichéd culinary delights Italy has to offer: pizza, pasta, espresso and, of course, those tiny cups of gelato. It’s safe to say we replaced two meals a day with gelato. I loved that you could wake up early, stroll through the piazza, grab an espresso from the little café then wander down the road to the gelato stand for a scoop of straticella for breakfast.

Now, you can have a little taste of Italy right here in the village.

Lucia Gelato opened for business at two locations, Garbanzo Bike and Bean and Merlin’s, at the beginning of June, but Kathryn Shepherd actually started making her authentic, straight from scratch gelato last spring. If you’re a Farmer’s Market junkie, like me, you probably saw her selling her delicious wares on the weekends last summer.

Making gelato isn’t exactly a typical hobby here in the mountains — most people are off riding mountain bikes and skiing. But Shepherd got addicted to the smooth, sweet treat while on holiday in Australia during her maternity leave.

“We lived in Noosa for a while, and they had a really good gelato stand there and we would go every day after surfing,” she explained, adding that she quickly realized Whistler didn’t really have a place to go for “really yummy gelato.” So when she returned from Australia, she decided to take matters into her own hands, and was soon off again, this time, on her way to Italy to learn how to make real gelato.

Shepherd actually attended a weeklong course at the University of Gelato in Bologna, and when she got back to Whistler, purchased the all-important batch freezer and started making gelato for the Farmer’s Market and different events. Over the winter, she decided to turn her hobby into a full time business endeavour, and entered into a partnership with Whistler-Blackcomb to help make her dream a reality.

Now, you may scoff at the whole idea of going to school to learn how to make gelato. Ice cream, sorbet, gelato — what’s the difference? It’s all cold, sweet, and delicious, right? Well, it isn’t quite that simple. There’s actually a pretty complicated science behind that tasty, icy treat. First of all, as Shepherd explains, in order to be labeled as “ice cream” the product must contain about 15 per cent dairy, whereas gelato contains only about four to five per cent. Also, the “overrun,” or the amount of air incorporated into the product, is much higher in ice cream — around 35 per cent — so it is lighter and fluffier. Gelato, on the other hand, has an overrun of about 20 per cent, so it’s denser and richer.

Now, Shepherd spends up to four days per week in the commissary kitchen at Base II, playing around with new flavour combinations and churning out delicious gelato, from scratch. While she keeps five core flavours in stock, she also gets a chance to use her imagination. At Christmastime, she made gingerbread, eggnog, and candy cane flavoured gelato. And this week, she was working on passion fruit, grapefruit, and dolce de leche (mmm, carmelly goodness). She uses fresh local fruit, when possible, and a minimal amount of stabilizer to keep ingredients from separating.

Prices are kept pretty reasonable, too, when compared to the prepackaged “gourmet” tubs you can pick up at the grocery store for $6 and up. A kid’s cone is $2.50, a regular portion of up to two different flavours sells for $4, and a large, which can include three flavours, is $5. And if you think it’s so good that you want to take some home for later, you can get a 500 ml take away container for $7.

“Things have been really awesome. Everybody that’s tried it has really loved it and now I have locals that come every day, almost!” Shepherd said with a grin. “…I’ve had one customer who was riding in the bike park come back five times in one day. He would do two runs, and then he’d get another one!”

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