Mercanto Metropolitano is a community-based urban market based in Elephant & Castle with a strong focus on Italian food, locally-sourced and socially-conscious products. I don’t know how I wasn’t aware of this place before. Maybe it’s because I rarely wander around Elephant & Castle, but now I’m glad I have discovered this place.
I was there for the Artisanal Gelato Day. Yes, a day dedicated to learning and tasting gelatos! As you can see from the poster below, there were two sessions about gelatos on the day – a masterclass and a sampling session. We got to pick one to attend and we went for the masterclass session.
In the masterclass, there were two prominent guests to talk us through the art of gelatos. One is Paolo Pomposi, who is the owner of gelateria Badiani as well as the winner of Gelato Festival 2015; the other is Giorgio Zanatta – gelato expert and winner of Sherbeth Festival 2016.
Here’s a little more background story about the two gelato experts:
Gelateria Badiani is a family business run by the Pomposi family. That being said, Paolo started learning about gelatos since a very young age. Today, Gelateria Badiani is well known across Florence for their high quality artisanal gelato. It’s an unmissable spots for both locals and tourists.
Gelato is an emotion.
What emotion is it if it’s not good?
Giorgio, on the other hand, is a gelato consultant and technical director of the Ice Cream Festival which brings the best artisanal gelatos into major Italian & European cities. He is also the winner of the Sherbeth Festival 2016.
He described that gelato is a rewarding experience. Gelato cannot be translated and is in a complete different scope from ice cream.
During the masterclass, the two gelato experts explained a bit of the history of gelato and the secrets to the perfect gelato. They thoroughly explained the difference between gelato and ice cream, as well as that between industrial and artisan gelato. Very handy information such as temperature, fat percentage, sugar level, air content, and even calories were being taught during the session.
Gelato vs Ice Cream
First and foremost, to every ladies’ delight, gelato has lower fat content than ice cream. Giorgio explained that ice cream typically contains 10-18%fat, whereas gelato has only about 6-9%. Subsequently, gelato generally contains less calories than ice cream as well!
The reason why gelato has a lower fat percentage is because of air. Gelato machines incorporate less air than ice cream machines. As a result, gelato has a denser and smooth texture, whereas ice cream is fluffier. To compensate for the amount of added air, more added fat (such as heavy cream) is required in order to produce a smooth texture. Hence ice cream contains more fat than gelato.
In terms of sugar content, there is about 17-21% of sugar in gelato whereas the percentage can vary in ice cream. It was pointed out that gelatos cannot be made without sugar. This is because sugar acts as an unfreezing agent, which keeps the gelato smooth and creamy.
Finally, gelato best served at a relatively warmer temperature in comparison to ice cream. Ice cream needs to be served at a colder temperature to remain solid. If it gets warmer, the ice cream would melt immediately. Gelato, on the contrary, remains creamy at a warmer temperature.
Artisanal Gelato vs Industrial
Artisanal gelato is meant to be handmade fresh and in small batches. On the other hand, industrial gelatos have a centralized production and then distributed to different places. That being said, industrial gelatos tend to contain chemicals and preservatives in order to cater to their mass production demands.
In addition, most of the time industrial gelatos you see in shops may have bright colours and fake looks – that indicates the use of additives. Artisanal gelatos keep it plain and simple. Simplicity is key. It’s always a warning sign when you see these bright colours and overly fancy / fake-looking industrial gelatos as they are typically hiding and trying to compensate something bad in the making of the gelato.
Making & Tasting Gelato
While Giorgio was being the main one doing most of the talking and enlightening us with such useful knowledge about gelatos, Paolo was mainly busy making actual gelato on the back. As he was making them, a basic gelato recipe was also being taught. The essential ingredients are milk, cream, condensed milk and sugar. You can then either add egg yolks or some fruits to create different flavours.
Gelato flavour #1: Buontalenti
The first gelato that Paolo made was the Badiani classic flavour called Buontalenti. This recipe is a simple authentic one, and is a copyright Badiani flavour since 1974!
Everyone was at least given one scoop of the gelato. They made enough for most people to have a second round. I must say the Buontalenti simply blew my mind. The creamy, smooth and velvety texture was to die for. In addition, there was such a fragrant vanilla flavour infused in there. It’s technically just a vanilla gelato but it’s mind blowing delicious. The elegance and sophistication are incomparable to any industrial gelatos.
Gelato flavour #2: Portivechju
Next up was Giorgio’s turn to make another gelato flavour for us to try. He was making the Portivechju, which is awarded as the people’s favourite at the Sherbeth Festival 2016. While he was working his magic at the work table, Paolo stepped up to talk about ingredient sources and combinations. They scooped up some of their vanilla powder and extract to circulate around the audience. When it was my turn to have a look and sniff on the vanilla, the scent hit me immediately.
The extract was super thick. The aroma was quite intense but not sickening. The vanilla perfume filled the air as it was passed over to our row. The fragrance explains the gorgeous flavour of the gelato. High quality vanilla truly makes a difference to the gelato. For any type of food, less is more. Precisely because of how simple and plain the ingredients combination, the vanilla really became the shining star.
After a little while, Giorgio’s Portivechju is ready for tasting. Basically he made a similar vanilla base gelato, and then streak with some local Sicilian berries and briefly mix it.
The texture of the gelato was as exceptional as the previous one. There was still a relatively heavy vanilla fragrance and flavour. As a result, it wasn’t really fruity as expected. It’s definitely quite an interesting and enjoyable flavour.
Gelato flavour #3: Columba
Next up we were treated with gelato with Columba. Columba is an Italian easter cake. It is basically Easter’s counterpart to the Christmas-time panettone and pandoro. It’s a doughy sweet cake topped with almonds and pearl sugar. For this one, there’s also candied orange pieces mixed in there.
I need not to repeat how great the gelato base was. Each gelato cups are then topped with torn pieces of the Columba cake. The cake was extremely fluffy and airy. It certainly goes well with the creamy gelato. The two makes a really great combo. They simply complemented each other impeccably.
To sum up, out of the three flavours from the masterclass session, my favourite has to be the simplest one – the Buontalenti. It purely screams of quality. It has always been about making a good base – and that’s precisely what these artisanal gelatos have demonstrated.
I have always loved gelatos. I remember visiting Italy and it was simply a gelato heaven to me. However, these artisanal gelatos really broaden my knowledge and horizon on them. These were truly spectacular flavours and simply addictive to taste. The closest one I have had while at Italy is probably one from La Caravella at Amalfi Coast. But even so, these ones are at a next level of flavours. I did walk pass Badiani while travelling in Florence but somehow didn’t end up getting gelatos from them. Now when I return to Florence, Badiani is definitely going to be my very first stop! Or, alternatively, I can always head towards Elephant & Castle to look for them at the Mercato Metropolitano 🙂
Address: 42 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6DR
Closest Underground station: Elephant & Castle (Bakerloo line / Northern line)