Cold comfort

Categories: Features

Gelataria 3Bis brings Rimini sunshine to Borough Market with its exceptional, authentic Italian gelato. Market Life drops in to witness the creation of a new flavour

Words: JP Aubin-Parvu

It pays to be early. That much becomes clear as I stand clutching a tidy haul of tiny spoons while Emiliana, behind the Gelateria 3Bis counter, passes me samples of Italian gelato to help pass the time: stracciatella (vanilla and chocolate chip), pistachio, choco-hazelnut, panna cotta, nocciola (hazelnut), and several dalliances with the mascarpone and figs, my favourite.

Before I can turn my attention to the fruity flavours of sorbetto I spy a silver tap, from which pours a stream of warm chocolate and hazelnut. Known as gianduai, this nectar of the Italian gods is used to make hot chocolate or is poured over crepes or gelato. I may need to sit down for a moment.

My reverie is interrupted by the arrival of Francesco Prati and Paolo Raffaelli, who together opened Gelateria 3Bis in 2012. I start by asking Paolo, a renowned gelatiere (ice cream maker) from Rimini, just how gelato differs from typical English ice cream. My question prompts a passionate outpouring of Italian. “The main difference is the fat content,” translates Francesco. “In gelato, the fat content is much lower, between six and 10 per cent, depending on the flavour. But an ice cream may have up to 20 per cent.”

And then there’s the overrun—the quantity of air incorporated into the ice cream through churning. “A typical ice cream has an overrun of 80 to 90 per cent,” explains Francesco. “So you start with a litre of mixture and then after churning you get 1.8, 1.9 or even two litres of ice cream.” With gelato, the overrun is significantly lower. “With our machine, the Cattabriga, it’s about 20 per cent or even less,” says Francesco. This results in a gelato with a markedly different texture and intensity of flavour.

Borough Market ingredients

Fresh every day
Traditional gelato contains no preservatives. “We make it fresh every day,” says Francesco. “We do small batches, sell them and when we run out we make some more.” The gelato has a short shelf life and will deteriorate quickly if left open to the air, so as soon as a fresh batch has been churned, it goes into a cylindrical steel container, known as a carapina, designed to prevent the gelato from oxidising.

The basic ingredients in gelato are milk, cream and sugar, plus natural binding agents. A few of the gelato flavours contain pasteurised egg yolks. “Milk is by far the most important ingredient in gelato, and for that reason we decided to use organic milk,” says Francesco. “The ratio of milk to cream is about nine to one.”

Many of the ingredients used to create the different flavours are imported from Italy—the caramelised figs are sourced from an artisan producer near Ravenna, the pistachios hail from Sicily and the hazelnuts from Piedmont. “In Italy, because the gelato market is so big, there are around 200 different pistachio suppliers,” says Francesco. “Paolo likes this particular pistachio, because it’s just right for him to make a gelato. He tried so many different ones. It’s the same for the hazelnuts.”

Paolo uses a mix of different chocolates to get the perfect balance of flavour, much of which is sourced from Pernigotti. “And also a chocolate from Holland that gives it a little bit of bitterness, because it might otherwise be too sweet,” says Francesco. “Getting the right balance of ingredients is very important.”

Making ice cream at Gelateria 3Bis

Organic Greek yoghurt
Gelateria 3Bis also sources direct from Borough Market—organic Greek yoghurt from Neal’s Yard Dairy; fresh fruit from the likes of Paul Wheeler Fresh Supplies. “We get our juices from Chegworth Valley and as soon as the season starts we’re going to get berries from them,” says Francesco. There is even talk of using chocolate from Rabot 1745.

Though Paolo and Francesco offer their customers numerous classic Italian gelato flavours every day, they are always up for creating something new—today, it’s using macha tea. The starting point is fior di latte, a blend of sugar, milk and cream. “That’s the most classic Italian gelato—the cleanest, most common and simplest flavour you can do,” says Francesco.

Behind the counter, gelato-maker Nicole gets to work weighing out ingredients, while the rest of us stand and watch. “I think Paolo is a bit worried,” jokes Francesco. Paolo looks at Francesco and laughs. The two Italians have known each other for many years. “Our families have known each other for over 30 years,” says Francesco. “We used to spend time together in Rimini when we were kids, but then I hardly saw him for almost 20 years.”

Paolo took over the famous Gelateria 3Bis in Rimini about 20 years ago, before opening this London branch in partnership with his old friend Francesco. Francesco had worked as a chef in both Italy and the UK before arriving at Borough Market around 11 years ago. “I’ve been working with my brother Mario on his truffle stall, Tartufaia, since the beginning,” he reveals.

3Bis gelato cone

The ethos of the Market
Paolo and Francesco have tried to create a gelataria that fits with the ethos of the Market. “Our aim is to involve the customers, to get them to suggest ideas for new flavours and even to make ice cream with us,” says Francesco. “Paolo has worked with schools in Rimini for many years, bringing the kids into the shop and showing them how the ice cream is made—teaching them about the ingredients and the processes—and getting them involved in preparing the recipes and making the ice cream.”

Nicole announces that the fior di latte mixture is ready. After a quick consultation with Paolo, she adds powdered green tea to the liquid. The bowl of fior di latte is heated for a few seconds, to help the tea to mix with the other ingredients. Nicole then begins to gently blend the hot liquid using a handheld mixer. Suddenly we are treated to a wonderful aroma of green tea.

Paolo comes over, inspects the contents of the bowl and mixes the liquid for a few more seconds. After tasting the liquid and adding a touch more fior di latte, the blending continues until Paolo is satisfied. He tastes the mixture again, but this time simply raises one eyebrow slightly and asks Nicole to add a bit more sugar. He has a final taste, just to make sure, and allows himself a tiny smile. Perfecto!

Nicole pours the vivid green liquid into the Cattabriga’s steel bowl and switches on the machine. During the churning process, the temperature gradually lowers to -20C. We watch the large spatula move slowly up and down, turning slowly, the blade pushing the liquid against the freezing walls of the bowl. I stand transfixed, watching the alchemy begin to happen—a process that happens behind the counter in full view of the shop. And this is exactly the point. “We want people to see how it’s made,” says Francesco. “If you used a closed machine they won’t see it.”

The master gelatiere
Before preparing the green tea gelato, Nicole had just finished a fresh batch of Paolo’s chocolate gelato. Paolo hands me a spoon, clearly wanting my expert opinion on his recipe. A moment later he has it—this is the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever tasted. But the master gelatiere is too modest, insisting in perfect English that opinions are subjective. “Anyone who says their ice cream is the best in the world, he is crazy.”

After about 20 minutes, the green tea gelato is ready. Now the moment of truth—will Paolo’s recipe need tweaking or has he perfected it on the first attempt? Nicole, first to deliver a verdict, believes the gelato contains perhaps a little too much tea. Paolo agrees that he found it a tad strong on the first taste, but liked it on the second. I reckon it’s about right.

Francesco is last to offer an opinion. “Strong, intense, challenging,” he says. “But that’s exactly how it should be.”