In recognition that Italian gelato is something of an art form, paired with a desire to create something idiosyncratic, Kitty Travers has sought to create something new in the ice cream industry. She tells us, “I feel like it’s a waste of time trying to copy what comes from a combination of history, amazing machinery, sublime ingredients, and natural artistry. You might as well create something completely different.”
As a result, Kitty’s business La Grotta Ices serves up a tastebud-tingling fusion of creamy texture and bold, fruity flavours using locally sourced ingredients. “This is something that you don’t really find in Italy as they tend to keep fruit sorbets and cream-based gelati separate”, says Kitty.Having written and published La Grotta Ices (2018) and La Grotta: Ice Creams and Sorbets: A Cook Book (2019), Kitty now invents and makes her recipes from a quirky former greengrocer’s shop in South London and supplies a handpicked selection of retail outlets and London food markets.
With our appetite whetted by the look and sound of all the recipes, it’s time to discover which ice cream flavour Kitty will be introducing us to this summer, why she’s always looking out for the perfect ice cream spoon, and what her top tips are for making ice cream at home.
Can you tell us what led you to start your ice cream brand?
I wanted to create something idiosyncratic, always changing, and maybe a bit peculiar - like the very small family-run ice cream kiosks you used to find all over the place in Italy when I first started 20 years ago. I also wanted it to be 100% authentic, as they were in Italy. Only, this meant being authentic to my being British, not Italian!
Where do you make the ice cream?
I make all the ices in what used to be a small Victorian Greengrocers shop in leafy Lambeth, which I converted into my kitchen workshop about 12 years ago. The conversion is still ongoing so I should confess it still looks a little bit like a shed.
What kind of ice cream do you make, and how?
I like to specialise in fresh fruit ice creams. This is something that you don’t really find in Italy as they tend to keep fruit sorbets and cream-based gelati separate. I make them all using whole, real ingredients because I don’t want to use milk powders or inverted sugars - this keeps the flavours very bright and intense and, even though I use high-tech Swiss machines for churning, it gives the ice cream an old-fashioned feel.
What is it about the Italian culture that means they do ice cream so spectacularly well?
Good Italian gelato is spectacular. I feel like it’s a waste of time trying to copy what comes from a combination of history, amazing machinery, sublime ingredients, and natural artistry. You may as well try and make something completely different. Plus the culture of going for an ice cream and a stroll persists all year round there and is as much a part of daily life as tea and toast is here.
Can you give us any clues as to what might be on the menu during the summer months?
This year we’ll have access to more interesting ingredients from Kent, Sussex, and Cambridgeshire than ever before thanks to small sustainable growers and distributors like Shrub Provisions. Last summer I was able to use English Apricots for the first time and they were delicious. This summer I’m looking forward to using very fresh and crunchy cucumbers and peas and turning them into something like a cool pale green Mr Whippy-style ice cream.
What does your kitchen/dining table look like at home, and how do you use it?
We have a tangerine-coloured kitchen counter which you can work on from either side, which means you can look out the front window as you cook if you’re on your own, or face the room and anyone in it if you want to be sociable. It also has a swing/dropdown table top which can be secured horizontally to create a kind of bar area to sit around. It’s very fun, and I must say I love it.
What helps to improve the ice cream experience?
I’m always on the lookout for a great spoon to eat ice cream. Ideally, it should be perfectly smooth so it doesn’t interrupt the texture of great ice cream and not snap when dug into too-cold ice cream that’s come straight out of the freezer.
Kitty's Homemade Ice Cream Tips
1. Purchase an ice cream machine
It's so much fun and if you’re on a budget it’s fairly easy to find one that’s inexpensive. Even if you only use it once a year and then hide it in a cupboard, it hugely improves the texture of ice cream because it adds air to the whipped mix. Freshly churned ice cream is the best thing in the world.
2. Age your ice cream mix
Essentially, this means refrigerating it overnight (or for 8 hours) before churning it. It’s a particularly useful tip if you’re making a fruit ice cream. Refrigerate the fruit purée separately from the custard and only blend them just before churning. This gives depth of flavour and keeps them bright and fresh.
3. Chop it up, then smooth it out
If you end up with ice cream that is too hard or icy you can always do what my mum does, which is chop it up and then whizz it smooth using a food processor. This brings it back to life every time!