This is the story of Giancarlo Timballo and his rise to fame as a master gelato craftsman.
How and where did you learn your trade as a master gelato craftsman?
Like so many colleagues of mine who started up their own businesses in the 1980s, I too came from a different background from hand-made gelato – I used to work with my parents selling wines and spirits. However, we realised that there was a profound structural crisis going on at that time in our sector, so I found myself in the position of having to reinvent a trade. I was 30 when I started my career as a gelato craftsman, without knowing a thing about gelato.
My desire and my curiosity helped me to grow professionally and become a gelato craftsman: I had never been one just to settle for mixing up any old ingredients without a proper understanding, so I began to study books and go on professional training courses. Also, at that time, Italy had the best trainers, who instilled the passion for gelato in me and fuelled my desire to grow from a professional point of view.
What makes your gelato parlour so special?
My gelato parlour is called Fiordilatte. I chose the name when I started up the business in honour of a historic gelato parlour in Udine, run by two sisters from the nearby Zoldo mountains, who used to make such a superb fiordilatte gelato, that even 40 years later many of my fellow inhabitants of Udine have fond memories of it.
Gelateria Fiordilatte is in Via Cividale, a busy street connecting Udine city centre with the suburbs. It is a typical takeaway gelato parlour, which produces over 30 hand-made gelato flavours, and lots of frozen desserts and gelato cakes.
In the gelato parlour, along with my wife and me, there are 4 permanent staff and 4/5 seasonal employees who work from March to September.
Where did the idea of a savoury hand-made gelato come from?
For this important step in my training, I am deeply indebted to Angelo Corvitto, a great Spanish master craftsman of Italian descent, who taught me this new technique for making gourmet gelato. The technique is based on using a few specific sugars as an alternative to sucrose, which make classical hand-made gelato less sweet, while still maintaining its original balance.
The key moment in making gourmet gelato was meeting great cooks who share this same passion for gelato, as an ingredient to use for cooking and for haute cuisine. Indeed, there is a close connection between gastronomy and gelato, as gelato was invented in the great kitchens of enlightened chefs in the Renaissance period. And we gelato craftsmen are children of that great era, when many of the jobs and products that we proudly call Made in Italy were first invented.
Today, our goal is to get back in contact with great cuisine and get back our role as key partners in the world of gastronomy.
2014 sees the 6th Gelato World Championships: are you satisfied with the results and the success it has achieved so far? What expectations do you have for the next edition?
Personally speaking, I am extremely satisfied with the work we’ve done in the last 10 years, together with the group that has been co-ordinating and organising this important event ever since 2003. The event has grown exponentially from one year to the next, and in 2012 achieved levels of professionalism and organisational competency of the highest degree.
The challenge for the future will be to raise the bar even further and keep up the reputation of Italian hand-made gelato. To do so, some important changes have been introduced into the regulations, with a greater emphasis on the specific sector of hand-made gelato.
As chairman of the event, what can you say about current trends in the gelato parlour sector?
The Italian gelato sector is going through a time of revival, aimed at raising awareness of the gelato craftsman’s professional skills, and the whole industry has realised that the only way to profitability is through quality.
The consumer is always on the lookout for positive messages and the pursuit of excellence and gelato craftsmen must do the same, aiming to come up with concrete answers in this area. Indeed, the combination of professionalism and quality raw materials is a winning one.
Understanding and selecting the best raw materials and semi-finished ingredients is vital if we are going to make a good gelato. What are the characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of each type of product and processing method?
A good professional knows what serious ingredients are available, so he will look for and select products, whether it’s raw materials or semi-finished products, that are closest to his own philosophy of gelato production. There are so many different materials and products available that excellent quality can be found in both sectors, while equally you can make poor choices if you are simply looking for the lowest price or the easiest product to use.
What is your opinion on gelato parlour chains, which are gaining an increasing foothold on the Italian market?
Chains are part of the global market, but the winning gelato parlour, that retains its loyal customers and sparks widespread general interest is the classic hand-made gelato shop.
The job of a master gelato craftsman is lovely, but only if it becomes an integral part of our lives: when we put our soul into our work, our trademark, our imagination and our ability to create a new flavour each and every day.
Chains are similar to industrial gelatos: they may provide good quality in terms of the product, but they have little personality. They have to plan their production and that limits their creativity.
What tips would you give someone wanting to become a gelato craftsman in the current climate?
The advice I would give anyone wanting to become a professional gelato-maker is to take training courses, to make the subject his or her own, to study and to study again, and to put all of their passion into a job that inevitably involves some sort of self-sacrifice.