by Stephanie Breijo
“When all is said and done, around 75 percent of our ingredients come from the area.”
Robb Duncan, owner and founder of Dolcezza Gelato, is walking us through his newly opened factory in Northeast. It’s a bright, spacious Wonka factory with all of the magic and none of the terror and Duncan is equal parts Wilder and Depp; he’s a dreamer who believes in his product and spends a piece of his days concocting whimsical flavor profiles to serve children, adults, and the young at heart.
The day we tour the factory is rainy, bleak and overcast, though that could never steer us from our objective: we’re here to make gelato and, as we learned, it hasn’t stopped the public, either–in these first few weeks of business, the factory’s tours are full; the coffee bar is always humming; the gelato machines stir, swirl and freeze constantly, come rain or shine.
It should come as no surprise that the factory’s success has little to do with the seemingly seasonal expiration date on its goods; since opening Dolcezza roughly 10 years ago, Duncan and his wife Violeta Edelman began one of the District’s best-selling dessert brands in the spirit of “love locally.” The couple–now company–uses only the freshest ingredients and it’s just one of many traits that keeps customers coming back year-round. Naturally, we wanted to see how it gets made to understand just what kind of magic Duncan’s been working.
“When it’s fresh it’s the temperature, it’s the texture, it’s the fact that it melts in your mouth,” he tells us, noting that customers who order gelato in the factory taste product so fresh that it’s produced about 30 minutes before it’s ordered. Clearly the freshness extends far beyond ingredients–it’s straight from the machine, a fresh product and a fresh experience. The gelato, newly spun, is lighter, fluffier and almost unlike anything we’ve ever tasted. It is 30-some degrees outside but you’d never know it from inside the factory.
The first step, Duncan explains, is to add milk, cream and sugar, and the flavor of your choosing into the cooker, which will slowly emulsify the fats. From there we transfer our mixture to the ager or age master, which takes about five hours to fully chill our gelato, then brings it to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
“You can get pretty much geeky with whatever you do,” he laughs before explaining the science behind Dolcezza’s secret.
Once Duncan moves the gelato to the batch freezer it’s all a matter of precise timing. The gelato is already cold in due part to the ager, which is incredibly important; a cold beginning makes the gelato freeze easier. The easier it freezes, the smaller the ice crystals. The smaller the ice crystals, the smoother the texture.
He turns on the mixer which kicks on with a low hum. From there with the touch of a button Duncan starts the compressor, which begins the freezing process. This takes roughly eight minutes though eyeballing is highly encouraged to find the perfect texture.
“Thirty seconds can make a huge difference on this,” Duncan muses.
Once we finish our batch and lick clean a spoonful of the sweetest dulce de leche gelato to grace this fine city, we take a seat at Dolcezza’s bar. Customers may come here to order any number of items ranging from pre-packaged push-pops, affogatos made with Stumptown Coffee, or their own spin on a sundae like their “Fruity Pebbles” made with Singing Dog Vanilla, candied citrus peels and peanuts (conceptualized just 2 hours before we got there), or the “Earth, Wind and Fire,” scoops of dark chocolate topped with Kinderhook spiced nuts and whipped cream.
And how does D.C.’s Wonka imagine such creations? Much like that freaky scene in the tunnel, it’s fairly psychedelic.
“It depends on the experience but it’s usually lots of bad drugs late at night,” he laughs. “You either get really great ideas or really bad ones.”
After hearing his latest batch of spring/summer flavors–strawberry taragon, roasted strawberries, blueberries with lemon and thyme, opal basil with lemon, lime cilantro or pineapple cilantro, and black berries and cream–we’re positive there’s not a bad egg in the bunch.
Originally published here.