As the last weeks of 2012 drew to a close, a small team of dedicated makers began churning out an inventive daily roster of gelati and sorbetti from a half-finished shopfront on Spring Street.
In a few short months – and with the remainder of the fit-out of the Spring St. Grocer nearing completion – Gelateria Primavera has developed a cult following. Queues of eager patrons snake out onto the footpath most evenings and the day’s handwritten list of flavours expands and contracts as favourites sell out and new concoctions emerge fresh from the churner.
As with many such stories, the runaway success of this operation hinged on an element of chance. Just a week before opening, Spring St. operations manager Anthony Femia contacted Massimo Bidin, a student of shiatsu massage residing in Melbourne. Bidin had worked in artisanal gelati production for over a decade in the seaside resort town of Lignano, located in the Friuli region of northeast Italy. Having finished his studies, he was preparing to return home, but a last minute meeting with Femia and owners Con Christopoulos and Joshua Brisbane changed all that.
Over a leisurely dinner, Bidin was coaxed into preparing half a dozen flavours for the three. Suffice to say, the team were so impressed with Bidin’s command of the craft that they convinced him to postpone his return flight and oversee the gelateria’s opening, three days later.
Bidin, a charismatic man with a sweet disposition, and Femia, the resident dairy expert, constantly play off one another’s strengths, sharing their knowledge and passions to create new flavours. Turmeric, cardamom and pistachio comes from Bidin’s travels to northern India; blackberry and goat’s curd combines seasonal fruit and Femia’s specialised cheese knowledge; and fresh sorbetti such as peach and basil are perfect in a zingy harmony of fruit and herbs.
“In Italy we normally work with traditional flavours, but here people are very open to different things,” Bidin says, noting that the diversity of cuisines available in Australia has resulted in a customer willing to try new tastes and textures not usually associated with iced desserts. “If you tried to offer this to Italians, they’d get scared.”
While much of the experimental Gelateria Primavera philosophy is hardly revolutionary, what’s new is how it is being applied. Here, gelati and sorbetti are made onsite daily and sold over a period of one to two days, ensuring that all products remain fresh. The seasonality and ripeness of fruit and other raw ingredients informs each day’s flavour selection, taking full advantage of mango, passionfruit and prickly pear in recent weeks.
Each batch of gelato begins with a base of milk and cream, which is pasteurised onsite to intensify the flavour and ensure a rich mouth-feel in the final product. This base is then left to develop overnight and fresh ingredients are added just before churning.
Gelateria Primavera’s commitment to the craft of gelati making is most evident in its public presentation – or lack thereof. The gelati is served from pozzetti (cooled, insulated tubs submerged in the counter’s bench top), which protect the creamy product from oxidisation and keep it at a consistent temperature. Before serving, each scoop of gelati is worked by hand on the inner edge of the pozzetti to provide a smooth texture upon eating. The decision to put the quality of the product before its visual promotion is a gutsy one, especially as most competing gelati stores depend on luridly-hued, overflowing mounds of ice cream to draw their customers inside.
Bidin plans to introduce vegetables, herbs and warmer spices into his offer as the weather cools, and Femia enthuses about the exceptional richness of milk and cream available throughout autumn and winter. Plans are afoot to sell brioche rolls filled with gelati in the Sicilian style and Femia hopes to offer a sprinkling of hazelnuts – prepared in a mortar and pestle to order – over the gelati in the coming months.
By resisting the temptation to diversify, Gelateria Primavera offers a product that is both simple and sublime. Despite his varied personal interests, Bidin professes his ultimate love for his art. “Cooking is essentially my life,” he says. “I could never live without cooking.”
157 Spring Street, Melbourne
(03) 9639 0335
Mon to Fri 7am–11pm
Sat & Sun 9am–11.30pm