Summer might be off to a slow start, but the lack of warm weather hasn’t dampened our spirits for that ultimate summer treat, ice cream.

Its history dates back to the 17th century in Europe (specifically Italy and France) – while ice treats date back to 1000AD in China – but there’s something of a renaissance happening in Sydney, with ice cream still the number one favourite among young and old when the weather turns warm (and even when it decides not to).

So what is it about this sweet, cold, creamy treat that has such universal appeal, whether the simple Paddle Pop or the more gourmet world of artisan ice cream and gelato?

“It’s emotional,” says Sarah Mandelson, ice cream goddess and CEO of Serendipity Ice Cream. “It brings back a lot of memories. I go on a daydream when I eat it and that’s what it’s supposed to do – take you away.”

When Mandelson makes her famous tubs of brandied fig and peanut butter disaster, she’s not interested in meeting deadlines or ticking cost-effective boxes. “In making a good ice cream, you make it as you want to eat it. Not for the accountant, but for making yourself happy,” she says with conviction. “That’s what ice cream is all about. Being happy.”

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And Mandelson should know. She’s been making ice cream professionally since she was 21, when she took over the family business that her mother started in 1966. So ice cream is in her DNA.

“Ice cream ideally should be made with fresh milk and cream and totally natural ingredients,” says Mandelson when noting how to pick the best kind of ice cream from the pack. “You must have real ingredients and lots of them; that will give you big flavours. Ice cream should be dense and a little bit chewy, and not have too much air or sugar in it. Sugar will suppress clarity of flavour.”

Nick Palumbo, founder and gelatiere of Gelato Messina agrees, only he refers to the range of Messina gelato that have gathered somewhat of a cult following in Sydney.

“It should be dense,” he concurs. “More dense means less air and that gives it a good mouth feel.” Palumbo has been building his reputation since starting Gelato Messina in 2002 in Darlinghurst, recently expanding to an outlet in the recently refurbished The Star and now to a new ‘lab’ next door to the original store.

“Texture is important,” says Palumbo. “It should be silky, there should be good colour, but nothing fluorescent. People should know what a natural food looks like. Our mint is a very soft, pale green. If it’s too green or a bright fluoro colour, it requires colouring and that’s not good. Look for ice cream or gelato that looks natural and not shiny or glossy.”

Both Serendipity and Messina are well known for pushing the boundaries when it comes to flavours. Serendipity stocks over 100 flavours, working with seasonal ingredients. Messina makes 40 fresh daily on site and regularly introduce specials that sometimes end up on the permanent list. So from durian flavour to ‘Porky’s revenge’ (maple gelato with candied bacon and pancake) where do these ice cream enthusiasts find inspiration?

“From all over the place,” says Mandelson. “Sometimes from customers who make suggestions, sometimes a chef who orders something special, or sometimes from something I’ve eaten somewhere. The coconut and kaffir lime was inspired by a Penang curry, believe it or not. It can come from unexpected places.”

And the same goes for Palumbo. “Now we’ve got about three to four chefs and we just draw on each other, suggesting flavour pairings and combinations. But we also look at what the top chefs in Europe are doing and then we cherry-pick what we can use from that. But really, it’s about 60 per cent us hanging out and talking, and 40 per cent researching.”

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it, right? And given the hard work that goes into creating dense and natural flavours, is there a right time for ice cream?

“After dinner is great,” says Palumbo.

Mandelson, on the other hand, is a little more liberal. “You should eat ice cream whenever you want to or need to eat it. Any time of day is good for ice cream,” she muses. “When we were travelling in Southeast Asia as kids we had it for breakfast.”

And how should it be eaten for best effect? “Always let it soften a bit” enthuses Mandelson. “Don’t eat it too cold. If you do, you won’t release all that uber yummy emotional stuff.”

Recommendation duly noted.

Where to get your ice cream this summer:

Check website for stockists

Gelato Messina
Shop 1/241 Victoria St, Darlinghurst
(02) 8354 1223
The Star, Cafe Court, Level G, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont
(02) 9571 1918

Cow & the Moon
181 Enmore Road, Enmore (Cnr of London Street)
(02) 9557 4255

Passion Flower
Shop G12, Capitol Square
730–742 George Street, Haymarket
(02) 9281 8322
Shop 3, 438–448 Anzac Parade, Kingsford
(02) 9697 3338

27 Marion Street, Leichhardt
(02) 9569 3444