Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ice cream, in theory

I just finished a three-day helado-making class.

The class was geared toward people who are considering opening their own ice cream shops. I don't really have the money or business acumen to do this. But of course my pea brain seized on the concept anyway and I have since become a little obsessed with it. Is it so unreasonable to imagine myself hoisted on the shoulders of my fellow citizens and welcomed as a gelato-serving savior in the United States?

That's what I thought.

  • We learned the four basic gelato groups, the master flavors on which the others are based:
    • base blanca (milk or cream)
    • base amarilla (with egg yolk)
    • base de chocolate
    • base de dulce de leche
  • Anyone familiar with the bread formulas used by professional or serious amateur bakers would feel at home with the percentage-based formulas for gelato -- balancing fats, milk solids, waters and sugars to land the totals in the right ranges.
  • You had to love when we discussed costs and profit margins. The instructor opened up the Excel spreadsheet that showed the outlays for producing different types of ice cream, and in the impuestos (taxes) cell entered "0."
  • Along the same lines: Why is ice cream consumption so much higher in Chile and the United States when there are ice cream shops on every corner here? Because the statistics here only cover reported sales. And reported sales mean taxes due.
  • We talked about putting ice cream on display under a glass case versus storing it "hidden" in stainless steel tubs with covers. When you have it on display, it deteriorates faster. It's almost never on display here. In the States, I don't think you could expect to sell much ice cream if you kept your product out of sight.
  • The instructor told us why Americans are so fat. It's the ice cream -- with a hefty 14% butterfat content. It's a miracle most of us can even roll out the door and into our SUVs.
The students in the class were an interesting mix. The dozen or so people included four Ecuadoreans, one Peruvian, one Chilean, and a Brazilian.

It was fascinating to hear the different accents.

The Brazilian used a mix of Spanish and Portuguese words wrapped in a Portuguese cadence and pronunciation that sounded almost alien but was sort of mesmerizing.

The Chilean sounded like she was singing when she spoke. It was beautiful. It would be easy to think that, since Argentina and Chile are neighbors, the speech patterns are similar -- like they are between, say, here and Uruguay. But in fact, no. Chilean and Argentine Spanish are very different.

As for the Ecuadoreans, I don't know how I would characterize their accent, but I got a kick out of their word choice. I can't really picture anyone here describing something as delicioso -- bueno, rico or riquísimo maybe, but not delicioso. There were a lot of little quirks like that.

(A little ice cream with your digression, Dan? Why, don't mind if I do.)

The first two days of the class were lectures on theory, marketing, business practices, etc. The last day of the class was hands-on. That's when we made 12 batches of gelato.

More on that next time.

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