Michelle Fincke spends a tough morning tasting icy treats.
Gelato, for breakfast.
Have I got your attention?
Certainly, the staff at Fitzroy’s Gelato Messina has ours when, on this dreary, drizzly Saturday morning they offer a warm welcome, a tasting menu and the most gorgeous dish that looks like a brekkie fried egg but is, in fact, a half-sphere of mango, orange and carrot gel, a scoop of tangy yoghurt gelato with shortcrust crumble.
Once a month, the much-admired Gelato Messina in Smith Street Fitzroy welcomes enthusiasts for its ‘Gelato Appreciation’ class. There’s not much hands-on creating – a few classmates volunteer to help in the commercial process and make the famed Dr Evil’s Magic Mushroom cake – but this two-and-a-half-hour session, starring a four-course gelato degustation, is one for the fans.
Gelato Messina is an icy empire dating back to 2002 and a single shop in Sydney; there are now a dozen stores in Australia. Its website admits staff is ‘passionate verging on obsessive’, and there’s an absolute devotion to creating everything from scratch using the best natural ingredients available. And by available, I mean the nuts sourced from particular plantations in Italy and ground to their satiny-perfect specifications.
The gelato is made on the premises and eaten while soft, creamy and fresh. They’re big on innovation, coming up with adventurous flavours and challenging combinations for weekly specials. Iced VoVo? Fairy bread?
The day’s gelato appreciation begins with a good coffee and the whimsical icy ‘fry-up’, with demonstrations of gelato creation in the Thermomix as well as a peep into the glassed-in commercial gelato making wonderland at the back of the store.
The session offers a load of information, explanation of the business philosophy and approach, funny stories of innovative flavours, culinary nerdiness and generous tastings, tasting, tastings. We nibble various chocolate samples, nuts and gelato at various stages of production.
The queen geek in me loves the science of gelato: the challenge to combine sufficient anti-freeze ingredients like sugars and alcohol to prevent the water-dominated mix from turning into a rock-hard ice block, while further varying the chemistry with fruit, chocolate and even freshly-baked apple pie. All-natural stabilisers and emulsifiers are used too, in pursuit of textural perfection.
Enthusiastic staff present another three beautiful, innovative creations as part of their gelato degustation. ‘Mr Sparkle’ matches punchy dark chocolate gelato with chickpea pure and fennel. Poached rhubarb plays the part of salmon in a nori roll made of sweet rice pudding. It’s accompanied by soft green wasabi gelato and scattered with sesame seeds in the dish called ‘Wasabi Maki’.
And my favourite, ‘Snow White Supper’ topped marinated strawberries with a dollop of white balsamic vinegar sorbet under a slanted roof of meringue. The sorbet is luxuriously silky and sour and sweet: surely this must be devilishly difficult to balance? The chef coyly admits to a couple of discarded attempts before finally nailing it, such is Messina’s pursuit of perfection.
We – the group of 20 or so – share one of the gorgeous Dr Evil mushrooms (featuring dark chocolate gelato, peanut cookies and dulce de leche gelato) and, with a Willy Wonka flourish, are invited to conclude the session by tasting all of the 40 flavours available today.
Staff cheerfully dish out tasting sticks laden with such flavours as tiramisu, mango, salted caramel, dulce de leche and chocolate lots-of-ways. When you’ve chosen a few favourites, you order your 500ml pack (included in the cost) so you can continue the party at home. And when that runs out … you can whip up more from the gorgeous hardcover book Gelato Messina: The Recipes, which is a take-home treat also included in the price of the class.
When we leave, somehow the day doesn’t seem to be so bleak. And I wonder: can I get away with icecream for lunch and dinner too?
*For more information on classes visit the Gelato Messina website or ring 0394170488.
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