Food and drink: Finding that perfect gelato 

Recommended summer research in the name of science

There couldn't be a finer or more important summer project than researching gelato. This worthwhile scientific endeavour is easily enhanced by a number of technical spinoffs, and by friends and family joining in.

For instance, you'll need a thorough comparison between gelato and ice cream, as well as other scientific comparisons between various gelato suppliers. Once you find your provider(s) of choice, you can research the multitude of flavours.

Luckily, you can start with Whistler's own Lucia Gelato, which Kathryn Shepherd churns out in the name of her daughter, Lucy. After studying the fine art of gelato making at a one-week crash course in Bologna, Italy, her original idea was to sell it at Whistler's farmers' market as a little hobby. Hah!

Four years, dozens of outlets and hundreds of flavours later, Lucia Gelato has proven to be a major project, much like the research of gelato itself, with Kathryn always experimenting.

One of her crazier combinations is a sorbeto, or sorbet, made with Red Bull, vodka and raspberries, available only on special order and often served at highly successful parties and weddings. (If you think that's offbeat, Escoffier has a recipe for asparagus ice cream.)

Today, I've interrupted Kathryn while she's whipping up a batch of Tropical Sun, made with fresh bananas, passion fruit and mangoes. But her favourite, and that of many others, is Two Tony's Espresso, also the result of much tasting and experimentation.

"My husband's name is Tony and one of our best friends is named Tony, and they are really into coffee. So when I actually changed coffee brands from 49th Parallel to Galileo, they had to come over and taste it and do a quality control to make sure they could still have their names on it," she says.

The well-approved result: a classic, smooth, richly balanced gelato - not too sweet and not too bitter - made with "a lot of shots of espresso," so watch it if you're doing late night research.

Just like there are dozens of styles of cuisine in Italy, there are dozens of ways to make gelato. Some are heavier and custard-like while others are simpler and more delicate.

The name "gelato" simply means "frozen" in Italian, and while it's come to be best known as a distinctive custardy type of ice cream, like Lucia Gelato, it really can be applied to a range of frozen desserts. So if you're looking for a definitive gelato in your research, forget it. It's all a matter of taste.

The original traditional gelato is typically high in butterfat and egg yolks. And while we can trace the first records of frozen desserts and ice- or snow-chilled foods to China, what we call gelato was introduced to Italy through Islamic conquests around 800 C.E. The Muslims of the day brought with them a range of ice creams and sorbet-like desserts they had learned about in Persia and India.

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