The scoop on gelato

Randi Jo Gause
SPENCER SHROYER / Anchorage Daily News

Gelato ("frozen" in Italian) is often confused with its more commonly known counterpart, ice cream. But try one spoonful at Gelato Kudrino in Wasilla and you'll instantly taste the difference.

Owner Dmitry Kudryn explained that gelato has a 5 to 6 percent fat content, as opposed to the 20 to 25 percent in ice cream. That allows the ingredients to stand out and also makes gelato a little easier on the waistline.

The churning process leaves gelato composed of 25 to 30 percent air. Compare that to ice cream, which is sometimes as high as 60 percent air. The process also means gelato's taste is less clouded by air and creates the density that surpasses traditional ice cream and sorbets.

The base (half cream and half milk) is made at the Matanuska Creamery, but the actual gelato is made fresh daily on-site, in the back of the store.

Gelato is also kept around 10 degrees warmer than traditional ice cream, which creates a more flavorful taste than solidly frozen offerings.

It's served up in cones ($3.45 - $5.25), cups ($3.45 - $4.95), pints ($8.50), quarts ($13.50) and five pint containers ($40.95 with 24-hour notice).

My first visit was just minutes before closing -- a mistake. When I asked attendant John Haley for a recommendation he grinned and informed me the gelato is made fresh and the most popular flavor -- lampone (raspberry) -- had already been exhausted for the day.

"It's the best -- but busiest -- place I've ever worked," Haley said.

I scanned the rainbow of vibrant colors displayed under glass encasement. The dark cherry is swirling with chunks of sweet fresh cherries, while the pistachio is peppered with real pistachio pieces. I settle on a small cup of the menta verda (mint chocolate chip), which has flecks and chunks of chocolate throughout. I take it as a good sign the flavor is almost gone.

The scoop seems smaller than a traditional ice cream serving, but I soon realize why. The velvety, rich flavor is more intense than any ice cream or sorbet I've tasted. Its slightly warm, melt-in-your-mouth consistency is also surprisingly less creamy and thick than ice cream.

On my next visit, I strategically arrive before the dessert crowd rush, set on tasting the raspberry flavor. This time I order a chocolate-dipped cone overflowing with the raspberry gelato. The vibrant red globs are oozing their way down the cone. I feel like a kid again, and I'm unashamed to admit that my first taste is a lick off the back of my hand.

This time the flavor hits at full throttle again. It tastes sweet, rich and above all fresh. Not typically an adjective I use to describe my dessert.

When Kudryn opened the restaurant in June of 2009, he had a clear vision in mind: creating an authentic Italian gelato shop, mirroring those he saw as a child in Italy.

"I wanted to take my memories of Italy and bring them here," Kudryn said.

Authenticity is important to Kudryn's vision. He uses a fourth generation gelato recipe that has been around Italy for 98 years and imports ingredients such as piemonte hazelnut, chocolate, pistachio and vanilla beans directly from Italy.

Rather than cloud the spot's authentic vibe with a host of choices, Kudryn serves only two things at his shop -- gelato and coffee.

"I've seen a lot of gelato shops throughout the country, but very few authentic ones," Kudryn said. "In Italy gelato is a destination in itself."

But don't think that makes the selection an easy choice either. The shop concocts 45-50 flavors, which are rotated based on popularity and the availability of seasonal ingredients.

It may take a trek out to the Valley for this frozen treat, but Gelato Kudrino still brings a taste of Italy much closer to home.

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By Randi Jo Gause
Daily News correspondent