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 time that I do this round-up.
A few 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 2018, 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.
The cream of the crop
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.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. Nigella Lawson gave the salted caramel her seal of approval.
802 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, 03 9815 2815; also at 296 Smith Street, Collingwood and 137C Acland Street, St Kilda
This Northcote cafe brings Turkish ice-cream to town. Called dondurma, the pulled ice-cream is stretchy and thick, like ice-cold elastic. Flavours include classic mastic, a resinous sap with a slight pine flavour, pistachio, halva and the curiously fabulous feta and cantaloupe. You can have it in a cone or sandwiched between two wafers or baklava. (Full review here)
244-288 High Street, Northcote, 03 9489 3114
Sorbet icy poles at Coffetti in Anglesea. Photo: Julian Kingma
This Bellarine Peninsula gelateria churnsout 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.
49a Hitchcock Avenue, Barwon Heads
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
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; 8 Degraves Street, Melbourne CBD; 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; also available at Barbarella, Block Arcade, Collins Street, Melbourne
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; 171 Chapel Street, Windsor; gelatomessina.com
Sundae School Ice Creamery
Clinton and Karina Serex, the masterminds behind Caufiled North's Tuck Shop Take Away, have rejigged their Karton milkbar into a retro ice-cream parlour. We're not just talking simple scoops. We're also talking picture-perfect, cherry-on-top ice-cream sundaes with your choice of house-made syrups (salted chocolate fudge, orange caramel) and crunchy textures (brown-butter peanuts, caramelised rice bubbles), plus ice-cream sandwiches with your choice of cookie, and old-fashioned malted thickshakes.
261 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield North, 03 9994 8984
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
Pastry chef Christy Tania's dessert shop looks like a yellow submarine, complete with portholes. Expect frozen s'mores on sticks blow-torched to order, layered ice-cream push-pops, crazy flavours such as coffee caramel with cinnamon and orange, plus frozen eclairs and macarons.
Shop2, 1A Peel Street, Windsor, glacefrozen.com
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 arrived 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 with Thai-style ice-cream that sees fresh ingredients frozen on a disc and scraped into rosettes. They'veopened in Chadstone with a bigger bar that will do scroll crepes come colder months.
Chadstone Shopping Centre, Chadstone, scrollicecream.com.au