Take just one bite and you might think you’re in Italy. But in reality, you’re on South First Street at Dolce Neve, Austin’s newest gelateria. Its authentic creamy treats are the product of one family’s imported know-how and commitment to using fresh and local ingredients.
Story and photos by Jessica M. Jones
Owners and siblings Marco and Francesca Ferrarese, along with Francesca’s fiancé, Leo Silvestrini, opened the gelato shop a little over a month ago. With thick Italian accents, they spoke of the humble start of their gelato business. “We pushed back our opening twice to make sure we were ready. Now that we have so many people coming and enjoying our gelato, I think we got it right,” Silvestrini says.
The family — Francesca and Marco from Fabriano and Silvestrini from Milan — moved to Austin specifically to open their first gelato shop together. After many disappointing visits to gelato shops in Columbus, Ohio, where she was studying for her doctorate, Francesca traveled back to Italy to learn how to make gelato.
There, she attended Carpigiani Gelato University and worked at La Gelateria Artigianale Naturale De’ Coltelli, one of the Italy’s most famous gelaterias (known for using the best seasonal produce in its gelato). After participating in the Sherbeth Festival, the world’s premier gelato contest and receiving sixth place, Francesca felt confident opening her own business on the other side of the world.
Despite never having visited Austin, the family decided it would be the best place for their shop because of the city’s creative energy and unique people. “People from Austin are very special and are interested in many things, but they all seem to be interested in trying new food,” Francesca says. In order to assure that they stood out among all of the other Austin-grown food businesses, they developed a philosophy: Avoid artificial flavorings and stick to traditional processes, no matter what it takes.
The classic Italian gelato-making process calls for fresh ingredients, which explains why the family strictly uses local products. The family decided to work with Farm to Table, a local business that distributes fresh, farm-grown products to restaurants. Farm to Table keeps Dolce Neve stocked with organic milk, cheese, fruits, eggs and all of the other products they need to make their various flavors.
At first, they attempted to visit farmer’s markets bi-weekly to select their products themselves. By handpicking each item, they were able to assure their ingredients would always reach their high standards of quality. But after just a week open, Dolce Neve’s customer base boomed and the family knew that hiring a supplier would be their best option.
With so many ingredients on hand, Dolce Neve boasts a diverse gelato flavor selection. When ORANGE writer Jessica Jones paid the family a visit, they were experimenting with pecans and goat cheese. Their gelato-making process begins with a mixture of milk, sugar and, in this case, cheese. This mixture is then cooled overnight to fully bring out the flavor. “With just one night of cooling, the flavor becomes so much stronger. In the morning, the mixture is ready to be poured into our machine and the rest is very simple,” Marco says.
Standing next to his imported, massive gelato-making machine — one of only five of its kind in America — Marco explains that, unlike other gelato machines, their machine uses manual controls. “You have to stand here and watch for signs that the mixture is turning into gelato. Once it’s ready, we use a big spatula to scoop it out which can be very tiring by the end of the process,” he says. Usually, most gelato machines work very much like washing machines, churning the mixture and spewing it out.
The family knows the gelato is ready when strings begin to form in the mixture. As it churns in the barrel of the machine, gelato begins to harden and get stuck to the rotating spatula that mixes the liquid. Once the mixture looks matte, thick and sticks to the middle, with stringy bits of the gelato hanging loose, it is ready to be scooped out and cooled for another ten or fifteen minutes. After that, it hits the serving table. “Every flavor that we put out is something that I would like to eat myself,” Francesca says.
Some of Dolce Neve’s popular flavors include the shop’s house flavor, Crema Dolce Neve, which tastes like a tart lemon custard. The flavor Cream and Strawberries brings back memories of childhood with chunks of local strawberries, and, after receiving a good price on Texas grapefruits, the family also has a refreshing grapefruit-flavored sorbet. However, they unanimously agreed that their favorite flavor is Tiramisu, because it tastes just like the popular Italian espresso cake dessert.
The family continues to experiment with their gelato flavors. They recently connected with an Austin honey supplier and Francesca has been working with the sweet substance. “My favorite flavor we have created recently was pecan and honey. Both flavors exalt each other so well,” she says. The family remarks that the bees must be better in Texas — it’s the best honey they have ever tasted.
Having only been open for a month, the family is already mapping out future plans. They feel confident moving forward with their business, with more people visiting the shop every day and their never-ending list of new gelato flavors to sell. Figuring out what works most efficiently business-wise, and which flavors sell the best, are aspects the family is still ironing out.
Although they have five other employees, the family of three works in the shop every day because they want everyone who visits the shop to feel like Dolce Neve offers a community. Silvestrini hopes to bring their authentic Italian dessert to more families in Austin with another location in a year or more’s time (perhaps in North Austin).
Italy may be across the globe, but the flavors at Dolce Neve bring an authentic Italian taste directly to the heart of Austin.