BeanScene Magazine


From the November 2011 issue.

Gelato, or ice-cream, has been enjoyed all over the world in one form or another for thousands of years, but the advent of the gelateria in Australia is a much more recent occurrence.

Where and when gelato was first concocted is a topic that has been open to much contention. Many believe that the concept of gelato was originally derived from the Chinese Emperors who mixed snow with fruit, wine and honey.

Others argue that its origins can be traced back to the 4th century BC when Roman Emperor Nero ordered his slaves to retrieve snow from the mountains and combine it with nectar, fruit pulp and honey.

Although it is difficult to determine the true origins of gelato, one thing that can be said for certain is that it has come a long way since its inception.

What was once considered a delicacy has now become mainstream – this shift largely credited to the invention of the freezer. Gelato is now enjoyed all over the world and has also earned its place in Italian culture and lifestyle.

In Australia, the first and longest running gelateria, Casa del Gelato, was established in Carlton’s bustling Lygon Street, not far from Melbourne’s CBD. It was founded by Master ice-cream maker Ottorino Pace in 1980.

Ottorino, a qualified pastry chef, migrated to Melbourne from Palermo in 1960 with his wife and daughter, in search of work and a better life – his story echoing that of many during the post World War II era.

At the tender age of 14, Ottorino began an apprenticeship as a pastry cook in his native Palermo, later finding work in Rome. Upon his arrival in Australia, Ottorino quickly found employment as a pastry chef, before purchasing his own cake shop in 1962. But as the years went on, Ottorino realised he was no longer satisfied in his profession. “I felt like I was stuck in a corner,” he says, “so I decided I would just make gelati and I would make it in front of our customers. From that year on, we continued to do very well, placing a great deal of value in the quality of our products.”

Ottorino doesn’t believe in franchises and takes great satisfaction in the fact that Casa del Gelato is still a family owned and run business.

Casa del Gelato is home to more than 170 gelato flavours, from decadent chocolates through to mouth-watering fruit flavours. The gelato is made fresh daily using traditional methods and the highest quality ingredients.

“The first step to making great gelato is to ensure cleanliness which is so important,” says Ottorino, as he reveals some of his best kept secrets. “Secondly, it’s using the highest quality ingredients. I make the base which is my personal secret and then add the flavours. Australia has the best dairy produce – milk, cream and emulsified yoghurt. For the fruit flavours, you must have a selection of very good fruit which is why I use the fruits that are in season. For example, I only make prickly pear and fig gelato during one time of the year. Everything else used must also be beautiful.”

Ottorino has sourced what he believes are the highest quality hazelnuts and nougat in the world and imports these directly from Italy. He also imports Bensdorp Royal Dutch Cocoa for his chocolate flavoured gelato. 

“I use the best products from all over the world, but you also need to have the passion in your heart. If you have this passion, everything will be alright,” says Ottorino.

Chocolate, lemon, strawberry, vanilla and Bacio are some of the most popular flavours at Casa del Gelato. Ricotta gelato is perhaps one of Ottorino’s most surprising and uncommon flavours. “I decided to make a ricotta gelato and the customers really liked it. I have brought this flavour to Italy and received many compliments, particularly for my ricotta, cinnamon and chestnut combination.”

Ottorino’s gelato is highly acclaimed and has received several prestigious awards in Italy. In January 2008, Ottorino’s mango and passionfruit flavours won the International Ice-cream of the Year title in the province of Rimini on Italy’s east coast. To make the gelato for the competition, Ottorino used Australian grown mangos and passionfruit. He was invited back to Italy the following November and awarded the Premio Internazionale ‘Mastri Gelatieri’ (an award presented to the best artisan ice-cream maker in the world).

“Any professional artisan needs a lot of experience to perfect their craft, it’s personal and you can’t just give that to another person so winning these awards was a big honour for me.”

Now 75 years of age, Ottorino remains hands on and takes great pride in the relationships he has developed with his valued customers. “When I opened Casa del Gelato I felt so young and energetic. I knew I still had at least 30 years in me. I have to give credit to my customers because they are what has kept me young,” he says.
Ottorino’s wife, son and daughter also work at the family business, with son Eric following in his footsteps. Eric is also an ice-cream maker, learning the craft from his father, along with the best kept secrets that Ottorino holds close to his heart.

Casa del Gelato
163 Lygon Street, Carlton

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