Something weird happened to me the other day. It was a balmy July evening, so I headed out with my flatmate to grab a cool glass of white or a crisp Aperol spritz at the new food market near our flat. But instead of heading to the bar, I went straight to the gelato stand without a second thought, as if pulled to it by an invisible force.
Intense pistachio. Moreish black sesame. Bitter coffee. Creamy stracciatella. My head was swimming with the possibilities. Two hours later, we left. But I hadn’t even had a snifter of wine, and my friend, disappointed by the knok-off Aperol she was served, abandoned the full glass on the table. The gelatos, on the other hand, were demolished in minutes, in a flurry of groans, moans and eye rolls.
I got to thinking, I can’t be the only person who has uncharacteristically ditched booze for a dinky cup of pistachio gelato, or at least forged a new love affair with the dessert. Gelatos beautifully presented like roses or pressed into gourmet waffle cones seemed to be popping up across social media more and more, and gelatarias opening up across the country. Plus, the third annual Gelato Festival in London in June almost sold out. I, coming to terms with the fact that I had an addiction, decided to investigate.
A rose gelato served at Gelato Gusto in Brighotn (Gelato Gusto)
My suspicions were confirmed by Alex Beckett, global food and drink analyst at the Mintel forecasting agency who specialises in ice creams and its sub-categories like gelato and sorbets. After some probing, he excitedly predicted that 2018 will indeed by the year of the gelato.
He says he has also noticed stores opening up across the UK, from Swoon in Bristol, to Badiani at the Mercato Metropolitano in London, and the newly-refurbished Unico in the capital which offers delicious vegan takes on favourites like moody dark chocolate. Google searches for the term have reached their highest ever point in the UK. Remeo, meanwhile, has this year become the first Italian gelato maker to start selling in the UK, with deals with Waitrose and Ocado rolling out earlier this year. All of this is great news for someone like me who has a habit to prop up.
At this point it’s important to arm you with some facts if you want to enter the year of the gelato like a true pompous foodie. First, ice cream and gelato are most certainly not the same thing. Yes, they’re very similar, but not the same.
Gelato contains more milk than cream, making it freeze at a lower temperature and taste cooler, lighter and, arguably, more refreshing. Churned slower than ice cream, it is more dense and has a more intense flavour. According to Maggie Rush, the president of the Ice Cream Alliance, the ingredients and the fact that it contains less air than ice cream means it also has a short shelf life and generally must be sold the same day that it is made. As gelato must be produced in smaller batches, this makes it ripe for experimentation with the highest quality ingredients, from sweet lychee or fig to black olives and wasabi.
Stunning photos of food by Anett Velsberg Stunning photos of food by Anett Velsberg
“The quality of the gelato on offer in the UK is increasing and people are enamoured by the discernible flavour of gelato, which is less ‘diluted’ than ice cream,” adds Charlotte Vile, a spokeswoman for the Nationwide Caterers Association.
This, says Beckett, taps into the overall demand for healthier, artisanal, “craft” foods containing ingredients with an engaging story of provenance… and all the other buzzwords that make something a surefire hit these days.
“We are on the cusp of gelato becoming mainstream,” says Beckett. “There is a latent understanding that it is high quality. It’s just that supermarkets are so competitive it’s hard for brands to break through into retail.” He says once a global manufacturer like Unilever takes the plunge, gelato will be everywhere.
Remeo rolled out in UK stores this year
“We know that alcohol consumption is declining and people still want their treats. Ice cream is one of the biggest treat foods out there. Millennials want to pay out for quality and authentic foods that have a clean label with fewer ingredients,” he adds. “Ice cream struggles in UK, but in the US gelato has been its saviour. We expect to see the same thing happening here.”
For Jacopo Cordero di Vonzo, the founder of Remeo, it’s not just data that plays into why he decided to bring gelato to the UK, but a bit of raw, carnal desire.
“We are convinced that Gelato is a better product than ice-cream – tastier, healthier, sexier,” he tells The Independent. “In the last five to ten years gelato has grown enormously in US and Brazil so we expect this to happen in the UK as well, and we are seeing this already.”
Established gelaterias are already noticing a difference. “Our sales continue to grow year on year and if you needed any evidence to support that you just have to look at the queues that form outside our shop,” says Owen Hazel, the co-owner of Jannettas in St Andrews, which has been open for over 100 years. “Where once our customers waited perhaps five to ten minutes they sometimes, during peak periods, have to wait 40 minutes.”
“I think the Brits are now embracing gelato,” adds Jon Adams, who founded Brighton’s Gelato Gusto in 2012. “I think in general people today are more discerning about the food they eat. Brighton in particular is a very foodie city and people appreciate the fact that we are an artisan producer making small batches of fresh gelato and sorbetto each day above the shop and they are willing.” Meanwhile, Swoon in Bristol says it has seen as 43 per cent rise in sales up on last year.
Gelato, it seems, is set to explode in popularity across the UK. But there’s just one small problem to solve before it becomes embedded in British culture like it is in Italian, says Adams: “it would also be helpful if we had a little more sunshine.”