La Gelatiera is a gelato haven in London’s Covent Garden, creating gastronimic flavours with natural ingredients. Food writer Leyla Kazim meets co-owner Stephane and finds out about their matcha gelato.
La Gelatiera – a multi award-winning artisan gelato parlour in the heart of Covent Garden – prides itself on traditional methods and using the finest seasonal ingredients to create unique and innovative flavours of gelati and sorbets.
Friends and co-owners – Stephane from France and Antonio from Calabria in Southern Italy – both used to work in the city. “We were missing good gelato in London”, Stephane explains. “So we started doing a bit of research and thought ok, let’s give this a try.”
Antonio has family history in the field – his grandfather used to make ice cream in a small village in Calabria. The duo took a year out travelling the length of Italy to absorb the philosophy of authentic gelato, “We were trying a lot of ice cream, coming up with recipes, and looking back at the family history of gelato from Antonio’s grandfather.”
After a long journey and lots of hard work, La Gelatiera opened in September 2011.
Well-worn and authentic techniques are used to make the ice cream here. The process is called mantecazione, meaning a gradual texturing of the gelato as it is mixed to the desired velvety consistency. This results in a supremely smooth end product with no ice crystals.
“What makes us unique is we do everything here on site, fresh every day, following the rules of old gelato making: no chemicals, no additives or preservatives, no emulsifiers. Just the best raw ingredients you can find. The Slow Food philosophy is at the heart of everything we do.”
Inspired by travels, and with a particular fondness for Japan and its vibrant green matcha tea, Stephane and Antonio were eager to use the unique flavour in their product.
“It’s an unusual taste with a touch of bitterness, but it’s rejuvenating and feels healthy. Summer is a good time to make it – even though it has a cream base, it is very refreshing”.
The pair tried many different types of matcha for their ice cream, even attempting to make their own, “It’s impossible. Matcha is a fine powder – the finest you can get. There is a grade and if you can’t get the grade, you can’t call it matcha.”
There was limited success dabbling in a simple green tea leaf infusion, “It had a good taste but it is much lighter – a bit too mild. You don’t have the bitterness of the matcha, and you don’t have the colour.”
“We wanted the best matcha in London and we preferred the one from Lalani & Co. And I know it’s organic and comes from Kyoto too.”
The quality of ingredients used are of paramount importance to La Gelatiera, from the flavourings to the base components, “We use Jersey cow milk as it is high in protein and good natural milk fats, allowing us to use only a very little amount of cream compared to ice-cream, resulting in a rich ice cream and a round and smooth texture. It’s the best you can get.”
“But what makes us unique is we use it raw – it arrives here completely fresh and we pasteurise it ourselves. This means we keep all the goodness in the milk – it is unhomogenised, so not pushed through filters which break the milk’s molecules.”
“The perfect scenario would be having a cow here we could milk ourselves; we have the next best thing.”
“Once we’ve made our pasteurised milk base, we then incorporate the flavours – so for the matcha, a certain amount of powder. You put it in the churn for twenty minutes using the mantecazione technique, and incorporate just a little bit of air so that the texture stays rich, smooth and dense.”
“When the mixture is ready, it is poured into a pan and blast chilled to prevent any crystal formation from the humidity and water content.”
Around 30g of matcha is used per litre of ice cream at La Gelatiera, “It’s really good quality, so you don’t need to use a lot.”
Stephane firmly believes in constantly tasting to ensure the harmony of flavours and textures are correct, “It’s similar to the baking process in the sense that the chemistry and the balance of the ingredients is very important.”
There’s a science to it which needs knowledge and skill to master, “Add too much sugar and your ice cream will melt. Not enough and it will be frozen hard. If there is alcohol in it, it will lower the freezing point and you need to take that into account.”
“It’s a matter of balancing all the ingredients perfectly to make a great gelato and my business partner Antonio is a master at it.”
Lalani & Co’s culinary matcha, used at La Gelatiera, can be found here.
Leyla Kazim is a journalist, photographer and food writer. Leyla tweets @LeyLaLaa and can be found at The Cutlery Chronicles.