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'Gelateria di Castellina'

August 2017

The heat wave that struck the Chianti region redirected us and led me to the third stop on my journey.
 
As part of my road as a designer, I try to study the culture and history of Italy in depth. Like any other tourist that arrives here for the first time, I made the mistake of thinking Italy was mainly represented by pasta, pizza and the famous Vespa. Soon I learnt that if there is something that truly represents the Italian culture with pride, it is the excellent ice cream that is made here. 
 
I discovered 'Gelateria di Castellina', which is the meeting spot of the locals, when I moved here about two years ago. The place is always packed with people and their ice cream, that is exceptionally good, is considered to be a loved dessert that is brought to every event, even just a family dinner. 
I decided to meet with Simone, the owner and ice-cream maker. He is a very busy man, delightful, funny and witty. In spite of the crowds, he found time to show us around, explain the ice cream making process, help with the photo shoots (one of his many hobbies) and patiently answer all of our questions. 
 
What products do you offer your clients? What type of ingredients do you use?
 
"We offer not only ice cream, but also other products such as Granitas, yogurt, and ice-cream cakes. Furthermore, since we use a lot of fruit in order to make different flavors, it was natural to add fresh fruit shakes to our menu. Regarding our ingredients, we always aspire to use high quality products whether they area fresh, when in season, or frozen during the rest of the year. The thing that is most important to us is the final result. It is impossible to reach the perfect flavor if you use, for example, strawberries that were picked ahead of time when still unripe, because the vendor decided to let them ripen during the transport, before they are sent to the market. In regards to the milk, it is 100% Tuscan. 
In order to give our ice cream a full and rich texture, we use whipped cream and two or three types of sugar. Since times are changing, we have limited the use of sugar but in any case, this is not a product for those on a diet! 
Another important innovation we will be presenting starting next season is ice creams without emulsifiers."
 
Why did you choose Castellina in Chianti as the location for your ice-cream shop?
 
"It was actually a coincidence. Initially, we wanted to open a shop in Gaiole. We started searching for a place, but we couldn't find anything we were excited about. Afterwards we thought about Radda in Chianti, as a place to open our new business, but there was already a bar/ice-cream place in this area. So finally, we spoke to an agency in Castellina in Chianti, who suggested a small place which used to be a garage and with a lot of dedication and passion we turned it into an ice-cream shop. The first name of our company was 'Antica Delizia' but with time, we were identified as Castellina's Ice-cream shop. So, with our transfer to a more commercial and bigger location, our name was changed as well. Now my wife's life and my own are here, in Castellina. We got married, had 3 children and our ice-cream shop."
 
What drove you to start making ice cream?
 
"Well, let’s say this too was random. I wanted to be independent. I was and still am passionate about motorbikes, so I thought of going down that road and opening my own bike shop. One day though, I was speaking to my father in law and he suggested that I open an ice-cream shop. At the beginning, I was very hesitant since I worked with leather for many years and knew nothing about the ice cream world. Nevertheless, I started training and today our business is flourishing. We produce a lot of ice cream and use approximately 640 liters of milk weekly and over 60 kg of strawberries. We make artisanal ice cream in industrial quantities."
 
What aspect of your work do you like the most?
 
"The creative aspect, even though I don't get to develop it very often since I have to produce large amounts of ice cream. The real inspiration comes to me from the outside world. One evening, I was having dinner with some friends and we were served an orange sorbet with green onion and anchovies as an antipasto. From this dinner, a new ice cream was born that I offer my clients, an orange sorbet with green onion and anchovies, just like the one I had with my friends."
 
In our world that is always becoming more industrialized, what pushed you to create home-made ice cream? How is it different from industrial ice cream and how do you give emphasis to the craftsmanship of your products?
 
"These are two very different worlds. The consumer must choose which one he prefers. Many owners of big businesses decide to go from an artisanal production to an industrial one. The most important difference is the use of the ingredients. Those who produce industrial ice cream base it on powdered milk, which has very different properties than normal milk (in its liquid state). I don't own a herd of cows but I trust high quality companies. I even went to visit one because it is important to me to see where the basic ingredients for my ice creams are produced. Anyhow, my recent recipes are very different from the ones I used 20 years ago at the beginning, since times have changed and we are always looking to improve."
 
What is your favorite flavor? What flavor would you like to create?
 
"I prefer sorbets, but my favorite flavor is the one I haven’t yet invented (and which I have no idea what it will be).  
Ice cream is a balance of ingredients, that if used correctly, give a perfect final result. I like to experiment with aromatic herbs and I even planted a few behind my shop. But it is a constant battle since it is not easy using them. Even the slightest touch is enough to make an excessively strong taste." 
 
What is your biggest goal?
 
"The objectives in regards to the ice cream shop have already exceeded the expectations; I wanted to be independent and I am, I wanted to open a successful business and it is, therefore the things I wanted I achieved. Other than my work I have three children and up until now I had little time to spend with them. Furthermore, I still have my passion for motorbikes that I cannot nurture. So, now my goal is to make time for my family and myself."  
     
 
As we were speaking, I realized that in this phase of my journey, I was already exposed to a future that might be waiting for me too and that made me slightly nervous. It is without a doubt that the artisanal world takes a heavy toll on the part of the creator and as a result, many artisans who I've spoken to are already weary. They give up the small, daily pleasures, which most of us take for granted, and work around the clock in order to create their art. I remembered how my mother always told me that when travelling around the world, if you wish to buy something, it is best to buy local produce from local artists in order to reinforce them both financially and in spirit, so they don't disappear from the world.
 
We also spoke about my business, a field he used to work in, and I felt at home. It's hard to explain the investment, the long hours, the tiredness and the excitement when the final product sees the light of day. I am meeting Simone at a tough period for me. A period of struggle regarding my future and the future of my business. Will I be able to find time for motherhood while making handmade handbags? Will I be able to maintain a relationship and continue to run a time consuming business? How do I continue to fight when there is a demand for frequent change, cheaper and more available products?
 
The artisanal world is disappearing. Factories are shutting down and ancient arts are being forgotten. There are long hours, hard work, that isn't always rewarding and many concessions that are made on the way to the final product. But those who still remain, do it out of passion, belief and a strong will to expose the creativity so they are not swallowed by it. 
I was afraid to write about this stop in my journey. I was afraid I would sound less optimistic and that the heavy heat would affect me, but as I am writing these final words I realize that I am proud to be part of this productive world and hope that my kids and yours will be able to keep enjoying it in the future. 
 
Till the next time,
Me.  
 
www.facebook.com/Gelateriadicastellina
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May you always be inspired
Sincerely yours,
Ziv Fetter