While many Americans are basically raised with an ice cream cone in hand, for Melanie Wolf it was gelato. “This is the ice cream I grew up eating as a child,” she says.
She’s from Argentina, where gelato dominates frozen dessert cases, as well as in Europe. Wolf now lives in Rhode Island with her husband, Denis St. Amand, and is a Spanish professor at the University of Rhode Island. When classes wound down for summer, she searched for something else to do. Opening Pompelmo Gelateria in downtown Westerly was the answer.
“I said [to my husband], ice cream is a good business in Rhode Island; people tend to line up for it at all times of the day,” Wolf says. “But what can we do to set ourselves apart from the other ice cream shops? I said, ‘Why don’t we do the ice cream I know: gelato?’ ”
She and her husband traveled to Bologna, Italy, to attend Gelato University, where they learned how to make the Italian frozen treat for their soon-to-be shop. Then Wolf returned again to take more advanced courses on the chemistry and science behind it, so she could create her own flavors using a gelato machine. She mixes her gelato base using whole milk, very little heavy cream and sugar, and adds natural fresh ingredients, such as fruit and berries from local farms, hazelnuts, pistachios and cherries imported from Italy, and local honey to invent new flavors.
The husband and wife team also recently opened a second outpost at Gramma’s Gelato Cafe in Watch Hill, located at 12 Fort Road by the beach. “It started as a side project to make a little money and stay busy in the summer, and evolved into what it is today,” Wolf says.
Gelato has a denser, more concentrated flavor than ice cream. “The main difference is that ice cream is usually pumped full of air to create more volume, and gelato isn’t, so you have a very slow churn with less air, which helps to create that dense creaminess that gelato is known for,” she says. “It’s not as cold as ice cream, which helps intensify the flavor.”