A chance order of pistachio gelato while travelling in Italy changed James Coleridge’s life. Totally different from the tubs of ice cream he loved as a child, it was rich and flavourful in a way that inspired him.
Returning to Canada after that first trip he tried gelato purchased from local stores, but it just wasn’t the same. He researched, and found Italian gelato makers learn their craft in specialized schools, with a focus on using fresh, local ingredients to create wonderful flavours.
Subtle differences in ingredients change the character of the resulting gelato. Increasing fat content just a bit makes gelato feel warmer, while lower fat makes it feel more refreshing. In Italy, gelato makers in the north use more fat than those in the south, where it’s hotter.
Inspired, James returned to Italy and went to gelato school, opening his first retail outlet upon returning to Canada. That led more recently to the creation of Gelato by James, which makes gelato for several local Vancouver food businesses. More than a decade later James still experiments with gelato flavours, different pairings of milk, sugars, and other ingredients. He competes for the best gelato on the world stage. And, he makes all of his gelato out of BC milk.
Good milk is the key to good gelato.
That really came home to James at his first gelato competition, not long after he started learning the craft.
The competition was down in the US, so James used the milk supplied by organizers so he didn’t need to figure out how to provide his own. The provided milk was fine, but not special – shelf-stable, tetra pack milk. Teams from Italy and France went in a different direction, bringing in their own fresh milk from home, across the ocean. The result – spectacular gelato with a unique local flavour that won the top prizes.
“I never forgot that,” James says. “Gelato’s foundation is milk.”
At his next competition, in Texas, James arranged to get milk from a grass-fed dairy in that state. He credits that decision with him taking top prize in the event.
“It was based off that decision of using a local, grass-fed organic milk from Texas. I used it and I won.”
Now, he uses nothing but milk from BC no matter where he’s competing – often shipping it across the continent. The results speak for themselves – he’s won 12 international and North American events.
“If you can get ‘made-in-BC’ milk, then you can’t get better. The quality of milk in BC is second to none, it’s incomparable,” James says. “BC dairy farmers care deeply about their animals and land, and how that translates into the finished product. You can taste that richness, that quality.”
He uses both standard and organic milk, experimenting with the impact of each on finished products. Different milks pair differently with the other ingredients, and have a different feel in the mouth. He uses whole milk with the typical 3.25 percent fat content, but also grass-fed milk with a bit more fat – 3.5 percent. Just like Italian gelato makers the gelato he makes in winter is higher fat than what he makes in summer.
“For me, using milk from BC assures me I’ve got a great start to making great gelato.”
Then, of course, comes the quality ingredients that bring out the flavour – different types of sugar, fruit, chocolate, and spices. BC is a diverse place, creating space to make a broad array of flavours based on the flavours of different cultural backgrounds, with fruits and spices from around the world.
“We welcome our differences here in BC. You can make an ice cream or gelato that touches the heart of someone from Iran, India, or the Philippines. When you are making flavours, everyone can say ‘wow that’s as good as it was at home’,” he says. “Everyone has a history of ice cream or gelato. There’s a place for all of it.”
While James makes gelato using all kinds of flavours, he also makes fior de latte, or “flower of milk,” gelato. In that variety milk itself is the flavour, with almost no other ingredients.
James has made more than 800 distinct flavours in the last decade, and is always trying new ideas. And, he still appreciates grocery store ice cream too.
“I grew up on ice cream, those buckets of ice cream that were what my parents could afford,” he says.
“I appreciate everybody who makes ice cream and gelato throughout BC because they’re using local and doing what they love, and giving people something that reflects their personality. That’s the beautiful thing about it, that it’s all different.”