A quality product, i.e. one that is both easy to market and well-loved by consumers, can only be achieved by training the gelato craftsman on various issues, some of which are anything but trivial.
It is important to note that formulating a gelato is not particularly difficult because it involves a relatively small number of raw materials and compound ingredients that are mixed together when hot or cold and then creamed. So-called “recipe balancing”, i.e. harmonizing five or six parameters in the recipe (sugars, fats, non-fat milk solids, different solids, SP, AFP ...) is something that you can learn quickly when you attend the excellent short training courses held by ingredients companies from AIIPA’s Products for Gelato Group. These companies are the most experienced in this field, having carried out decades of systematic research into ingredients and structure in the gelato field.
The comparative lack of technological skills and know-how required, compared to pastries, for example, is one of the reasons why gelato parlours have been springing up all over Italy and abroad, a factor which no doubt has some very positive knock-on effects, especially in terms of good visibility outside Italy.
So if gelato-making in itself is quite simple, opening up a gelato parlour and making gelato to sell to the public is quite another matter, and requires meticulous and in-depth training.
Given that it is a food product, first of all, a gelato parlour operator needs to have a good understanding of the risks involved with the product, of the right display and storage temperatures, notions of HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), hygiene, sanitation, cross-contamination and at least rudiments of the legislation regarding the sector. This type of training is of paramount importance for the production of safe and wholesome food, something that far exceeds the importance of producing “good food” and which should be the starting point for any novice and expert craftsman.
A well- trained craftsman needs to keep up to date on these issues, which should ideally be entrusted to institutions suitably qualified to train in this area (for example universities and colleges, or else inspection bodies such as local health authorities or veterinary departments). AIIPA member firms hold courses and meetings on these topics, taught by highly-qualified food technologists, which often compensate for the lack of public courses on these vital issues.
If we take it as given that the gelato craftsman needs expertise in hygiene, the next step in creating a true professional lies in providing the expertise required to develop a gelato-based product.
Far more important (and this is what helps stand out from industrial gelato) than which “pure” ingredients and semi-finished products to use in the mix, and the proportions for each, it is paramount to know what to do with that mix. The true distinction between hand-made production and pseudo-craft methods (a phenomenon which is on the rise in recent years with industrial chains which mimic craftsmen by focusing attention on the ingredients and not on the skills) lies in the craftsman’s ability to transform gelato into many different saleable products. The ability to make custom or unique flavours, single portions, cakes, ice lollies, biscuits, frozen desserts, cremolatas, mousses, Bavarian creams, puddings etc. cannot be improvised or learned in the space of just a few days. Whether it is signing up for specific courses held by makers of compound ingredients or professional schools, or opening up one’s mind to contaminations from chocolate makers, pastry chefs or restaurateurs, this is the most important phase in the technical training of a modern gelato craftsman. This is what makes him or her unique, enables him/her to stand out from the crowd, to compete with industrial production, even when the industry tries to make out it is craft-based. As some recent cases show, arguments over what ingredients to use, or over the recipes and the quantities of compound ingredients, drag down the level of discussion until everything looks equivalent. That is no road to go down.
It is also vital to learn to communicate with the consumer, and the enterprising gelato-maker’s technical training has to include notions of marketing and of sales that need to include the structure and look of the parlour, the product (it is so important to be able to tell one’s story), the service – each and every detail is vital when the gelato-maker comes into contact with the consumer. Lack of communication skills and a rather undynamic approach to the menu has certainly allowed industrial competitors into the marketplace. However attractive they might seem to the consumer, they will never be able to compete with the uniqueness and unrepeatability of craft production. But if that uniqueness is not expertly communicated to the imagination of the consumer (and not only to his palate), even the most outstanding product is likely to be underestimated and trivialized.
For all of these reasons, training and education for the craftsman must be ongoing and continuous and all AIIPA member companies have their own training schools which deal with these and other issues both for novices and for experts. By studying the product, its hygiene requirements, its transformation and its sale with experts who have studied hand-made gelato in infinite detail is without doubt the best way of getting the right tools for the marketplace