Each newsletter we will be interviewing a independent producer who is smashing life. This week we talk to Sophia Brothers the founder of Nonna’s Gelato.
Let’s start with the big one, what is the difference between gelato and ice cream?
Gelato tends to use mainly milk where as ice cream is a combination of both cream and milk, resulting in gelato having a lower fat content than ice cream. We don’t use eggs in most of our gelato recipes either but that’s not the case for everyone. Gelato is also churned at a slower rate, incorporating less air (or overrun as we call it) than in ice cream, giving gelato its dense, full flavour.
Your company is called Nonna’s Gelato—she must be a legend, so how did your gran inspire you to make gelato?
She is definitely a legend! She’s always made everything from scratch and never wasted a thing. I remember running around the kitchen when we were young and she’d be rolling pasta on the table, have a simple tomato sauce on the hob stewing for days, jars of lemons soaking in alcohol to make limoncello, the smells were just incredible! I’ve always had the biggest love for gelato and ice cream so combined with my Nonna’s attitude to food, I knew I wanted to try and master gelato.
Can you pinpoint the moment where you thought, "fuck it—I am going to make ice-cream for a living."?!
It was at the back of my mind for a long time and we often sat round the dinner table talking about Nonna’s Gelato, the name was there from the very start, but it was probably Summer 2014, I’d been on Kitty Traver’s amazing ice cream course at the School of Artisan Food and was so inspired by what she does, I thought let’s go for it.
I had a base recipe for Fior di Latte from my Nonna and from then till we launched in June 2015 I just experimented with one very small domestic ice cream maker, given to me as a gift from a friend who thought it was about time I made it myself, to save a penny on how much I bought!
Once the idea had been planted, how did you go about turning the business into a reality? Was it a fairly smooth process or were there times where you thought, "what the hell am I doing?". Any funny stories?
It finally seemed like it was actually happening when I applied for a spot at Broadway Market, in Hackney. I was up against 10 other ice cream traders and somehow got the spot!
From then on we ramped up quickly, I brought a second hand gelato batch freezer (this churns our milky batches into the lovely, dense gelato) and installed it into my home kitchen. None of this was a very smooth process and I completely underestimated the time and money involved. I’ve got so many, now hilarious, photos of friends helping me lift this (feels like) 10 tonne machine up and down stairs to the kitchen. It then had to be wired in as it requires 3-phase power, I managed to find a convertor and even though every electrician I came across thought I was nuts to install 3 phase power into a domestic property, it worked!!
How many people are in the Nonna's Gelato team?
We’re a very small team of three. It’s lovely as it’s me and my two sisters, a proper family business that Nonna would be very proud of.
Run me through what a typical day at Nonna’s looks like.
A typical kitchen day starts early, I like to start on my own, when it feels the worlds not awake yet. We’ll do most of the prep work first, fruit purees, toffee sauce, meringue, anything we’ll need for the flavours we’re churning that day. The remainder of the day will then be spent pasteurising batches, churning, labelling tubs and potting. We always give our batches at least 24 hours to age before we churn them, but usually longer, so it’ll be churning batches made a few days prior and replacing them with new ones. It’s a constant rotation due to the size of our kitchen and fridge/freezer space!
What has been your most memorable business achievement so far?
We’ve had some amazing reviews, featuring in the 'Best Ice Cream in London' in both TimeOut and Vogue, which always make us feel so proud. But if I had to pick one, or actually may be two?! Sorry! I’m terrible at making decisions. It’d be making gelato to accompany Nancy Silverton’s dessert for a week residency at Passo, such an honour as she’s such an inspiration when it comes to Italian cooking. Or we had one week last Summer where we did a record breaking 7 huge events and our weekly market, with just our team of three. All the gelato production, event set-up, scooping, delivering, I was immensely proud of us and a little amazed it all went down without a hitch!
I love that you describe your gelato as an Italian/British hybrid. Was it always your intention to work with local produce? Is seasonality the main inspiration when coming up with new flavours?
Yes, completely! We let the seasons and our local suppliers dictate our menu, so some flavours are literally only available for a short window each year. One of my favourites we make is an elderflower, yogurt and gooseberry. We’ll make elderflower cordial as soon as the first elderflower blooms which will last us for months but gooseberries have such a short season we never have it on for more than a month, despite trying to stockpile as many gooseberries in the freezer as possible each year! We also love to work with local suppliers as there’s so many incredible small businesses on our doorstep it’s great to showcase what they’re creating too as well as keeping our practices as sustainable as possible.
One of my favourite things about Nonna’s is that you work with your clients to create bespoke flavours (they made me an unreal lemon thyme and sherry and plum number for a serious of dinners last year). Was this always part of the plan? How important is it for you to maintain creative freedom as a business?
To be honest I don’t think we had much of a plan to begin with but as we got into doing more and more events we found we were often asked to create flavours to their themes. For example, we created an Indian inspired menu for Alchemy festival on the Southbank, flavours like Masala Chai Caramel Ripple and Pistachio & Rosewater, which you wouldn’t find on our usual menu but actually gave us an opportunity to do even more creatively and work with ingredients we wouldn’t usually. So I’d say working with clients on flavours has actually given us more creative freedom in most scenarios, we love any excuse to experiment.
From cream tea sorbet to five pints porter & chocolate ripple gelato—all of Nonna’s flavours are uber imaginative. If you had to pick just one as your favourite, what would it be?
It’s quite a classic compared to some of our flavours but has to this day always remained my favourite—Kentish Cobnut. A British version of an Italian favourite, Nocciola (Hazelnut) but we use locally grown Cobnuts from a farm in Kent. It’s so rich in flavour, tastes exactly like a Ferrero Roche!
And the important part, where can people try your gelato?
You’ll find us every Saturday at Broadway Market and we supply to a few independent shops and restaurants, you can find a stockist list on our website.
Now the questions we ask everyone—what’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
Probably Guinea Pig, whilst travelling in Peru, I can’t say it’ll be something I’ll be rushing to eat again any time soon.
If you could only take five ingredients to a desert island what would they be?
Salt and extra virgin olive oil, as I literally put it on everything (we’ll blame that on my Nonna too), bread to accompany them, courgettes and their flowers, one of my favourite foods and chocolate, for my own guilty pleasure! Not sure my ingredients would help with survival on this desert island!
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
It’d probably be Nutella, I can eat a whole jar with a spoon in one sitting, terrible!
Who's your biggest food inspiration?
As corny as it may sound, it would probably be my Nonna, she’s made the best food I’ve ever tasted and inspired me to cook with no waste and so much love!
Words by Sophie Godwin