Ice cream, we all scream for gelato

George Roiniotis loves the Malaysian weather because he gets to sell gelato all year round.

He is probably right about the heat and gelato formula: at his shop in Alamanda, Putrajaya, there is a steady stream of customers looking to cool off with gelato.

"Unlike in Europe where there is only a small window of opportunity to sell gelato, the hot Malaysian weather is any gelato maker's dream," says Sottozero Gelato Artigianale co-founder Roiniotis with a sheepish grin.

Gelato, which means ice cream in Italian, is not too shabby a treat in any kind of weather. When compared to ice cream, gelato is thicker, dense and full of flavours. It is also the healthier option.

"Gelato has less fat than ice cream. While ice cream is normally heavy on the cream and has a fat content of at least 10 per cent, gelato uses more milk than cream, and generally also uses less egg yolks - if any."

Because gelato is churned at a slower speed than ice cream, it's denser as less air is whipped into the mixture. "Ice creams are churned faster and typically increase in volume by at least 25 per cent and up to 90 per cent with air. This makes them fluffier," says Roiniotis.

A shiny gelato surface indicates the amount of water that still needs to be frozen, thus makers ensure that it is matte before putting it on display. A good gelato structure is one that holds the peak like a meringue and overall, the texture should look smooth like a silk fabric.

He also adds that while ice cream is typically served frozen, gelato is usually stored and served at a slightly warmer temperature of 10 - 15 degrees celsius.

As a consequence, the flavour intensity of gelato hits the palate faster. And since there is not much fat in gelato, it doesn't coat the mouth the same way as would ice cream, thus the flavours become more pronounced.

"If ice cream is served at the same temperature as gelato, it would melt. On the other hand, if gelato is served frozen, it would lose its 'elastic' texture."

Although most ice creams require hardening after freezing, gelato can be consumed fresh from the mantecatore - the freezing maching commercially used in gelato making.

The best gelato is one that comes directly from the machine, so of course it is best eaten fresh.

And at Sottozero, freshness trumps everything. The store offers a menu of at least 24 flavours of gelato made on site.

"This is the only gelataria in Malaysia that makes the gelato on site," he claims. "We do not want to compromise on the taste of the product, and make the gelato daily." The gelato can be kept for seven to 10 days in the freezer, although Roiniotis advises against it.

"It is best consumed on the day of purchase or the day after," he says.

All the ingredients to make the gelato, as well as the waffle cones and wafer biscuits that they are served in and with, are imported from Italy. However, fresh fruits are sourced locally.

"Malaysia has some of the best quality fruits available. We use them to make our fruit-based gelato and granita," he says.

Granita is a semi-frozen dessert and here at Sottozero, it is all natural. Fresh fruits are blended with water before the mixture is stored in a "deep well" in a fridge.

"No ice is included. No preservatives are added."

The granita is available in lemon, strawberry, mango, orange and watermelon flavours, although only four of these flavours are served daily.

"It really depends on the availability of the seasonal fresh fruits. We do not want to make the granitas in advance and store them," he says.

Sottozero also offers assorted cakes and Italian pastries such as cannoli with custard, bomboloni, minions and crepes, besides coffee and cold drinks, but the highlight remains the gelato.

"We want to offer the best Italian experience and what is more Italian than a cold lick of gelato on a hot day?" asks Roiniotis.