Joanne from Livvy’s Ice Cream tells us about her journeys in gelato, from training in Italy to creating some bonkers bespoke flavours and gelato for dogs! She’s one of our exciting new traders at #sheffoodfest18, find her in the Pinstone St Van Zone.

Almost three years ago, a grotty black and orange ice cream van came into my life. A headlight fell out on the drive back from the Lake District, where I’d bought it, and a long abandoned choc ice was later found languishing in the freezer. She was in serious need of attention and general tarting up before she could be released onto the discerning Sheffield public. Less than two months later, after some bodywork and a full respray, she was reborn as Nellie, the vintage ice cream van. All she needed was something fabulous in the freezer to replace that slimy choc ice.

Livvy's retro icecream van

Livvy’s retro ice cream van

One thing stands out about Sheffield’s food lovers: they’re willing to try just about anything. With that in mind I needed to reinvent ice cream and the best place to do that was at Gelato University, Bologna, Italy. Yes, it exists and yes, it’s borderline Willy Wonka’s factory. I spent my time with Giacomo, a gelato chef with 35 years experience and a chain of gelateria in the city. I wasn’t learning to cook; I was learning science and I wanted to create the tastiest science I possibly could. Giacomo taught me how to create a recipe from just a few key ingredients. I went to his main gelateria one night and ate something so delicious I quickly checked around for anyone watching me before I licked the tub clean. The bar had been set high.

Gelato differs from ice cream in that it has less fat, is served at a higher temperature and is churned slowly, so that less air is incorporated, giving it a creamier texture than ice cream. And the secret to great gelato is simple: use the best ingredients, use natural ingredients and don’t put anything in it that doesn’t need to be there. But that’s not all, because the next most important thing is to be daring. No one ever reinvented anything without being daring.

Serving icecream from the van

Serving ice cream from the van

I would still make vanilla and chocolate (just better!) but mint choc chip needed a serious overhaul. Its artificial greenness and toothpaste flavour had no place in my freezer, so an overnight infusion of locally grown fresh mint was the answer. It tastes like mint, not mouthwash and that’s as it should be. Raspberry Ripple also got licked into shape with some real raspberries instead of the squirty raspberry ice cream sauce. Next came the collaborations with local businesses. Vanilla with Henderson’s Relish ripple has been hugely popular and working with Birdhouse Tea has opened up a whole new chapter of flavours.

Then came the bespoke flavours with first a request from bride and groom Roisin and Paul. Could I make a cheddar and marmite gelato for their wedding? Of course I could, because marmite goes with everything. Anything is possible, within reason.

Couple enjoying their bespoke marmite and cheddar gelato

Roisin and Paul enjoying their bespoke marmite and cheddar gelato

I also had to make sure that no one was left out. Vegans are catered for, as are those who prefer a sorbet over dairy. But your faithful canine companion needs something too and so the dog ice cream came to fruition. This is made from pure peanut butter, ripe bananas, lactose free milk and no sucrose. My two greyhounds have been on the testing panel from day one; it’s either very tasty or they don’t want to hurt my feelings by leaving any. Incidentally, Livvy’s was named after my youngest greyhound. How many other Sheffield businesses have a dog as their brand ambassador?

Finally, there is the slush machine; arguably a necessity in any ice cream van (it feels wrong to call it a gelato van). Putting something lip stainingly blue in the machine goes against everything that sits in my freezer, so this is equally natural and minimalistic. Why use artificial flavours when real fruit makes the very best cordial? In May and June I’ll be out every day foraging in Whiteley Woods for elderflowers, which make a slushy that is quite possibly the nectar of the gods.

So that’s all there is to it and now that I’ve given away all my trade secrets, the only thing left to do is to try it for yourself. We’ll be on Pinstone Street for the Sheffield Food Festival. Come along and try a taste of Italy with a Yorkshire twist. Just don’t ask for a 99.

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