Archive for June, 2016

Jun
13

Gelato on the brain

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"Crema Classica" is just about ready. Stand by with your pointing' trowels to start gorging.

“Crema Classica” is just about ready. Stand by with your pointing trowels ready to start gorging.

And when its done he scrapes it out of the churn with a long spoon and scrapes it into the container which is headed for the display case. Does it look bland? I'll tell you what: It isn't.

And when it’s done he scrapes it out of the freezer-churn with a long spoon and scrapes it into the container which is headed for the display case. Does it look bland? I’ll tell you what: It isn’t.

This must be the place.

This must be the place: Soban Gelateria, 23 Piazza Gramsci, Valenza, Italy.

I have spent the last few months immersed –now there’s a thrilling thought — in gelato. Specifically, in the artisanal gelato made by Andrea Soban in Valenza, Italy.

Guess what?  It’s simpler, and also harder, than you might think. Simpler in the sense of ingredients and procedure, and harder because, like playing a Bach fugue, you can’t just up and do it one day when the mood strikes you.  And don’t think that even professionals always (or ever) reach this empyreal level.  Those images above represent a literal lifetime of effort.

As it happens, though, we can leave it to him to deal with the details.  Anyone who can make it to Valenza can enter this parallel universe where everything conspires to make you happy.

The following photos are not intended as a manual on how make sublime gelato (I’ve left out a few things, such as “equipment” and “expertise”) but to show the attention to detail and the quality of ingredients Andrea lavishes on his ephemeral creations.  In fact, he’s always one day behind the gelato staring at you from the display case; ordering the milk and cream, making the mixture and leaving it in the pasteurizer overnight to “mature” means that what he freezes today he actually brewed up yesterday.

I wish he lived next door.  Life would be so much better.

Of course he's smiling. He's making gelato.

Of course he’s smiling. He’s making gelato.

Fresh whole milk goes into the pasteurizer where it will await its companions.

Followed by fresh cream. more or less 10W-40 weight. (Made up.)

Followed by fresh cream. more or less 10W-40 weight. (Made up.)

Separating eggs by hand. The yolks act as an emulsifer, the whites are often destined for a sorbetto.

Separating eggs by hand. The yolks act as an emulsifier in gelato, the whites are often destined for sorbetto.

There is the machinery, but nothing beats fingers and brain for even the simplest tasks.

There is the machinery, but nothing beats fingers and brain for even the simplest tasks.

Yolks beaten, into the mixture they go.

Yolks beaten, into the mixture they go.

Peeling ten lemons, followed by oranges.

Peeling ten lemons, followed by oranges.

Fat vanilla beans on the right, thin, shrivelly little beans from Tahiti on the left, which are, despite being thin and shrivelly, the most highly prized vanilla beans on the market.

Fat vanilla beans from Madagascar on the right.  The skinny little beans from Tahiti on the left are, despite being thin and shrivelly, the most highly prized vanilla beans on the market.

His forebears from the Zoldo Valley in the Veneto Region were the first to bring gelato down from the rich and powerful and offer it to ordinary people. These gelato-makers spent the summer in northern Europe making their simple concoctions (freezing by hand) and selling them from pushcarts like the man shown here, the grandfather of the owners of “Gelateria Zoldana” in Treviso.

The families from Zoldo also worked in gelaterie abroad. Here is the Arnoldo family working in Vienna in 1934.

The families from Zoldo also worked in gelaterie abroad. Here is the Arnoldo family working in Vienna in 1934.

The ice-cream-freezing machine was invented by Nancy Johnson in Philadelphia in the 1840s. This system, in various sizes (this is a quart) was what all gelato-makers used till mechanization came at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries.

The ice-cream-freezing machine was invented by Nancy Johnson in Philadelphia in the 1840s. This system, in various sizes (this is a quart) was what all gelato-makers used till mechanization came at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries.

And speaking of differences, these are two pistachio pastes from the same producer. The darker one was sent as a sample; as soon as Andrea tasted it, the old product was benched.

Sugar! Or, to be precise, sucrose! Because there are some 100 sugars he could choose from.

Sugar! Or, to be precise, sucrose! Because there are some 100 sugars he could choose from.

Carob flour, a natural stabilizer.

Carob flour, a natural stabilizer.

So you leave it overnight and then put it in the freezer/churn and after just a little while you've got frozen rapture. You just have to keep doing it with all the different flavorings that your people want, as partially shown above.

Here we see how it all turns out.  After the mixture (with any added flavorings) is left overnight, then put into the freezer/churn, after just a little while you’ve got frozen rapture. Notice that each container has its own spatula.  No rinsing one lone scoop all day long here.

The point of it all: Eager crowds craving more.

The point of it all: Eager crowds craving more.

These men work in an office an hour away from Valenza, but have to come to town on business about once a week. How too bad is that? (The man on the right has been coming to Soban since the shop opened 40 years ago. Start 'em early is the best philosophy....).

These men work in an office an hour away from Valenza, but have to come to town on business about once a week. (How too bad is that?).  The man on the right has been coming to Soban since the shop opened 40 years ago. Start ’em early is the best philosophy.

This was dinner: A pound of gelato. Selling by weight means you can organize a sort of tasting menu. Clockwise from left

This was my dinner: A pound of gelato. If five scoops seems like a lot, it wasn’t. It wasn’t even enough.  Counterlockwise from left:  Brachetto (a wine from Piemonte) sorbetto, zabaione, mandarino sorbetto, chocolate (from Venezuela) sorbetto, vanilla cream.  My only regret: Not having bought two pounds.  A big shout-out to Andrea’s brother, Stefano, who mans the helm at the shop in Alessandria — carrying on the family tradition in a big way in another town.

Perhaps this image doesn't call for any explanation. There's so much I could say, but "Yikes!" probably covers it.

But all gelato is not created equal.  Perhaps this image doesn’t call for any explanation. This is the gelateria from hell.

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