Unbeknown to the happy-go-lucky consumer of frozen treats, Melbourne's gelato scene has a secret.
"We are the only ones in Melbourne who make everything from scratch," whispers every single gelato maker I interview, every single year that I do this round-up.
Two years ago, those words rang true. And some of the smaller gelaterias who now have an empire employ some shortcuts to meet the insane demand of the crowds that can't and won't stop screaming for ice-cream. But in 2017, there's definitely more than one lone cowboy using good milk, fresh fruit and pozetti.
Before we begin on the summer's best places for a frozen fix, a quick refresher: gelato is Italy's lighter version of ice-cream – milk, cream, sugar and eggs (not always, though), typically flavoured with nuts, pastes or fruits. What sets it apart from ice-cream is a lower butterfat content thanks to a milk-to-cream bias, and a denser, more elastic texture resulting from a slower churn and a warmer serving temperature.
Pozetti is the name for the chilled lidded canisters in which gelati is kept to keep it as soft and fresh as possible.
Finally, remember that if you want to order bubblegum ice-cream over organic sorbetti, that is your god-given right as an adult.
Sorbet icy poles at Coffetti in Anglesea. Photo: Julian Kingma
New kids on the ice block
Good gelaterias use high-end peanut butters. These guys roast the nuts, blend the butter and then think about adding it to the mix. Serious gelati has come to Hawthorn and it may be the most serious in the city. The design of Sandra Foti's shopfront is by Hecker Guthrie. At night, gelati-themed short films screen on the royal blue walls as well down at the Lido cinema where the team here have choc tops for sale. This is no-shortcuts gelati and sorbetti in the extreme. They even make their vegan chocolate sorbetti from a base of cacao powder and cacao butter. Get the honeycomb and a scoop of raspberry so bright it still tastes of the sun.
802 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, 03 9815 2815
There are two red hot reasons to get down to Anglesea this summer (three if you count the rolling waves of one of the Great Ocean Road's best beaches). Chef Matt Germanchis and Gemma Gange have taken over the surf life saving club and are making Captain Moonlite a hell of a lunch or dinner destination, while further along the strip, you'll find this freshly minted gelateria churning out batches from scratch on the daily. The classic fresh fruit flavours (watermelon, mango) are a big pull, but the bonus here is the huge range of less-melty paw-shaped things on sticks, covered in sprinkles.
87/89 Great Ocean Road, Anglesea, 0434 274 781
What you'll like about Johnny Di Francesca's new gelateria next to his Lygon Street pizza palace isn't the creativity of flavours (it's more your classic Baci, double chocolate and coffee, with strawberry shortcake representing a breakout) or the energy of the store (I kind of love that service is as crankily indifferent as the old gelaterias of Lygon Street), but the trim. Everyone's got a Nutella tap but here's a fountain pouring dark chocolate that hardens like high-end ice magic. You can get your cone (gluten-free optional) dipped and frilled with anything from hundreds and thousands to coconut. It's a sweet scoop with a drag on the palate.
93-97 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, 03 9380 2320, 400gradi.com.au
It's difficult to spin an Aussie childhood experience of grazed knees, sunburns and Bubble-O-Bills into the kind of romantic confectionary-based tale that Cristino Vedovato and Fabrizio Locatelli have of wandering Piedemonte streets, noses to window. Be grateful you have your cherished memories and now the light-on-manipulation, heavy on flavour and quick-melt factor of the duo's Prahran Central store. There's an element of deja vu to the pastel colour scheme and the chocolate taps in the background of the schmick space, but originality in the savoury sweet and vaguely spiced pumpkin gelati and the rich win of vegan pistachio.
325 Chapel Street, Prahran, 03 9939 4922, joylati.com.au
Opening opposite a cinema is like shooting fish in a barrel (or opening near a primary school). You're opposite the Westgarth complex for this sweet little Sicilian cafe where the coffee is wood roasted, the pistachios are Iranian and the chocolate comes with a wink and a rosemary kicker. Marco Enea is a third-generation gelato maker from Sicily and his dozen flavours have the unique texture profiles to prove it.
76 High Street, Northcote, ilmelograno.com.au
Lisa Valmorbida travelled to Italy in 2013 to learn the gelato ropes and took Melbourne by storm with her Carlton pop-up, then bricks-and-mortar store on Lygon Street followed by a Windsor outlet early in 2016. The beats in the store are as loud as the colour scheme and gelati are pastel soft. This is light and clean-as-a-whistle gelati of churn-fresh elasticity that registers low on sugar unless you get your banana, raspberry swirl or fior di latte dunked under the Nutella tap (and why wouldn't you?). Upgrade your cone to a brioche bun for the win.
299 Lygon Street, Carlton; 85 Chapel Street, Windsor; 03 9347 4596, pidapipo.com.au
Blame Massimo Bidin for awakening the gelati monster that consumes us all. He came to Spring Street Grocer and showed Melbourne what a churn-fresh, produce-celebrating product could be and we've never looked back. His coconut-based gelati punched a hole through vegans' known universe, and for anyone else, it's still a trip to dip into a rosemary and honey-tinted scoop, remember the dark savoury potential of hazelnuts beyond Nutella, or experience the subtle sweetness of the fior di latte that's made purely from milk and cream and their own caramelised sugars. Get a cold-pressed juice and you've got the breakfast of champions.
157 Spring Street, Melbourne, 03 9639 0335, springstreetgrocer.com.au
Last month I watched two dudes on Smith Street have a punch up, get over it, then go to Messina for a scoop. Nothing can dampen the passion Melbourne has built for this originally Sydney-based force of nature. Yes you'll still queue, but you always end up at the front faster than you're ready, panicking over the 35-odd flavours and specials – maybe a coconutty riff on the Bounty or a "Candy Warhol" – then settle on the salted caramel anyway. That's OK. It's their biggest seller for good reason.
237 Smith Street, Fitzroy; 164 Swan Street, Richmond; gelatomessina.com
Jock's Ice Cream
Jock Main was throwing Tim Tams, pavlova and in one never-to-be-repeated experience, garlic, into the churner long before the young punks at Messina and Pidapipo showed up. He still is. Main has been scooping up fresh churned Hokey Pokey and Obamarama in Albert Park since a motorbike accident in 2001 lead to his calling as the shaggy haired figurehead of the store. Bonus points for still having wafer cones as an option – they were the real victims of the gelati boom.
83 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park, 03 9686 3838
Instagram-friendly soft-serve and toppings at Aqua S. Photo: Jennifer Soo
N2 Extreme Gelato
We still get a kick from watching teams in lab coats and goggles whip your blue cheese or popcorn-flavoured ice-cream to order in a KitchenAid surrounded by billowing fog.
Various locations, n2extremegelato.com.au
The Sydney seller of made-for-Instagram sea salt-flavoured soft-serve that arrives wearing fairy floss has launched in Melbourne, ready to clog your feed all summer. Find them at QV.
16 Red Cape Lane, Melbourne, aquas.co
Justin Huang and Sam Kothari popped up on Chapel Street late last summer with Thai-style ice-cream that sees fresh ingredients frozen on a disc and scraped into rosettes. They've just opened full time in Chadstone with a bigger bar that will do scroll crepes come colder months.
Chadstone Shopping Centre, Chadstone, scrollicecream.com.au
Ice Cream Festival
Ditch the ice-cream crawl and hit Preston Food Truck Park from January 20-22, when you can maximise your access to the goods with minimal effort. Do it for your health. thefoodtruckpark.com.au