Chef studies gelato at Italian university for new venture
Moira chef Aaron Heasley decided to study at the home of gelato in Italy before launching his own luxury variety in his Co Armagh home village and further afield.
Aaron (37) has recently established Moon Gelato, an artisan business, and introduced his first range of gelato flavours on the back of an intensive course at the unique Carpigiani Gelato University in Bolognia, the only institution in the world focused on the delicious dairy treat. He launched the new gelato as the first coronavirus lockdown was lifted in June.
Originally from Moira but now living nearby at Aghalee, Aaron, a qualified chef, developed a taste for Italian gelato on honeymoon with wife Victoria in Barcelona and Mediterranean cruise which included a short stopover in Italy.
“The trip put the idea of a genuine Italian gelato operation here in my mind. I discussed creating our own with Victoria and she was enthusiastic,” Aaron, the chef at the Fat Gherkin café in Moira, explains. “I began reading about gelato and trying various types after the honeymoon. This research introduced me to Carpigiani and led me to find out more about the university and how to produce genuine Italian gelato. It made sense for us to sign up for an intensive course there in gelato production and flavour creation. The course was in 2018 and covered five days. My objective was to produce the best gelato I could for customers here. Studying at the university was, of course, a marvellous experience.
“The course gave me the confidence and inspired me to turn my interest in gelato into a small business venture. The first lockdown provided the time and space to develop my own products and the business.”
Established in 2003 to spread the Italian artisan gelato culture, Carpigiani Gelato University attracts chefs, entrepreneurs and pastry chefs from around the world. It offers the world’s biggest gelato laboratory, where students can learn to create novel recipes with guidance from vastly experienced instructors. Every year more than 2,000 people take the study courses, offered in several languages including English.
“The course gave me solid knowledge of Italian artisan gelato, an understanding of ingredients and different production methods for gelato, sorbet and stick gelato,” he continues “While gelato and ice cream both contain the basic ingredients of cream, milk and sugar, authentic gelato uses more milk and less cream and generally doesn’t include egg yolks. Gelato is also a much denser product than ice cream, which means stronger flavours, and contains only about four to nine percent fat. In addition, gelato typically offers fewer calories, less air and lower sugar than ice cream. I handcraft the gelato myself and even pasteurise the milk. This means customers can count on a totally traceable product with provenance.”
Aaron, the chef at the Fat Gherkin for more than four years, was encouraged by Olwyn Ferguson, the café’s owner, to push ahead with his plans and to start selling the new gelato from the café after the lockdown was lifted. “I appreciate greatly Olwyn’s encouragement. I subsequently decided to buy the necessary equipment, including a soft-serve machine, to make my own gelato initially for sale in the café.
This gave me invaluable feedback from customers about the gelato and the flavours I’ve since developed. And I am delighted to say that the feedback has been extremely positive,” he adds
Aaron, a father of three young children, then sharpened his management skills by signing up for a ‘Go for It’ course at Lisburn Enterprise Centre.
“While I’ve been involved in running kitchens, ordering from and dealing with suppliers and budgeting over the years, the course at the enterprise centre offered access to an experienced small business mentor who helped to expand my knowledge and overall confidence,” continues Aaron.
His choice of the Moon Gelato brand was influenced by a school project being undertaken by one of his children.
“The information about the moon was on a chalk board with the theme ‘out of this world’. I reckoned that Moon Gelato – Out of this World - would be a great marketing message for the business and our great tasting products,” he says.
The first eight flavours of gelato and sorbet he’s created include a vegan coconut and maple variety that’s proving immensely popular. Others in the portfolio include chocolate and salted caramel. In another change, he serves the gelato in a croissant instead of the traditional cone. The gelato is also sold in two scoop tubs and 500ml pots. The product is now attracting the attention of leading gourmet retailers such as The Meat Merchant, also based in Moira, and Yellow Door in Portadown.
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