Sara and Giancarlo have set up a gelato shop in the city. They talk about what makes the Italian ice-cream special
At 10.30 a.m. ‘Milano’, the new Italian ice-cream shop in the city, is in a flutter of activity. The squeaky-clean tables are being wiped vigorously, workers flit in and out, moving in and arranging things. And a small television crew is busy training its cameras on the machine, which is dispensing thick, aromatic ribbons of pistachio ice-cream. It is tough to peel one’s eyes off the ice-cream as it falls in smooth, silken folds. “Here, taste this,” says Sara Calderoni, the owner of the shop, offering a paper cup heaped with a colourful mix of vanilla, raspberry and hazelnut ice-cream. After the initial numbness induced by the frozen mixture dies down, the flavours emerge, fresh, fruity and absolutely delightful.
Serving authentic gelato (Italian word for ice-cream), ‘Milano’ looks and feels like it has been transported straight out of an Italian boulevard—creamy-white walls, matching furniture and typically Italian windows. Sara, who runs the shop with her husband Giancarlo Segalini, is soaking in the joy of finally setting up the shop the way she wanted. “Except the refrigerators, every other equipment here has been imported from Italy,” she says. “We Italians love our ice-cream as much as we do our pizza. The world knows us for our pizza. The ice-cream, too, should be known and loved. That is why when we thought of starting a business here, we wanted it to be ice-cream,” she says.
The fact that Giancarlo hails from an ice-cream makers’ family just made things easier. “Ice-creams seem to him the most natural thing in this world,” says Sara. As if offering an explanation, Giancarlo quips: “I grew up eating and making ice-cream. We have about 50 recipes here to start with.”
Though it has not yet acquired the cult status of a pizza, the gelato is loved for its low fat content. Known as “no-air” ice-cream, a gelato can be made out of anything edible. A typical sorbetto uses just fruits, water and sugar. No preservatives, chemicals, fats or artificial flavours are added. For the milk-based gelatos, the only fat content is what is in the milk, says Sara, who has eaten an ice-cream almost every day of her life, like most other true-blue Italians. “In fact, that is the best thing about the gelato. Isn’t it?” she asks. “And the secret of making a perfect one is getting the right balance of sugar and water.”
Sara came to India for the first time in 2004 as part of the coir import business she runs in Italy. Since then, she would make visits at least twice a year, as her work demanded it. An idea to start a business in India seemed like an intelligent thing to do, she says. “Running a business in the West is no longer easy. Things have slowed down and all the action now happens in the East.” The initial idea was to set up shop in Delhi, but the costs proved too much to bear and friends suggested we could shift our focus to Kochi, where Sara had business contacts and a few friends. After a quick visit to Kochi in 2012 to study the city’s business potential, Sara and Giancarlo decided to move in and set up shop. “We did not even do a proper market or quality research. But as far as we know it, every body loves ice-cream and it is an experiment worth trying out,” says Sara, who will have to travel to Italy once in a while as she has not shut down her coir business.
Having opened in December, Milano has slowly begun to attract customers. “We have not really advertised. Here (In Kochi), I feel, things work better by word of mouth,” Sara says.
The flavours on offer range from pannacotta to pistachio, Ferro Rocher (which uses the same ingredients that go into the ever-so-loved round chocolate), Zuppa Inglese (known as English soup, but has nothing to do with soup), pineapple, hazelnut, chocolate and Italian butterscotch. “Butterscotch is not a traditional Italian recipe. But we introduced it on demand,” says Sara. Milkshakes and sundaes are available, too. Italian ice-cream cake orders too will be taken up.
Though most of the ingredients are imported, some of them are procured locally. The challenges of adapting to the locally-available raw materials are many. “Take coffee, for instance,” Sara explains. “There are so many different varieties available in Italy, where as here we have a limited range of flavours. So we need to adapt the recipes to what is available here and what will be liked and appreciated here.”
The shop, at Ravipuram, on MG Road, also provides take-away thermocol boxes, which can keep the ice-cream intact for about an hour.