Bulgarini: the traditional Italian art of gelato making

It seems such a long time since when we tasted a real Italian gelato. Or perhaps we just miss it too much, as only ten days passed from the “L’Italo-Americano” Ferragosto party at Casa Barbera. One of the sponsors of that delightful event was Bulgarini Gelato, and almost all guests queued – in some cases even more than once – to get a scoop of it.
Besides the nice-looking cart, most of the people were attracted by the surprising flavors like pistachio, peach sorbet and the extremely original goat cheese mixed with 100% pure cocoa.
But what’s the story behind such a delicacy? We asked directly to Leonardo Bulgarini.
Bulgarini Gelato was born by chance. When I was a young boy living in Rome my uncle used to make gelato, but I had never thought of doing it for a living. Until nine years ago, while traveling around Italy, I noticed how many different flavors and large quantities of so-called home-made gelato can be produced nowadays. On the contrary, I remembered that it took days for my uncle to prepare only one or two flavors by using milk and natural ingredients.
The explanation is the use of semi-finished products able to provide high volumes and a variety of flavors in a few minutes. This doesn’t mean that Italian semi-finished gelato isn’t good, yet the authentic recipe tastes different as the ingredients have time to ripen and absorb nutritious substances from the ground.
So how do you prepare your home-made gelato?
By using only natural and high-quality products, brown sugar and water. I personally select all the ingredients, some of them coming from local farms and others from Italy. In Northern California you can find extraordinary peaches and plums traditionally grown, while the best pistachio and almonds are from Sicily. But I also go pick up hazelnuts in Oregon, and cocoa in Santo Domingo from a Florentine farmer who has found there the perfect habitat for his plantation.
Of course this is a more expensive way of doing things, but I love to travel and to get in contact directly with the producers: for me it is the first step to create a genuine and tasty gelato.
You clearly love your job. But can you get your passion across to your customers?
This job is amazing but it takes time to become remunerative, and to be understood. I have been very lucky in getting widespread exposure thanks to my previous experience and contacts in the restaurant industry as a sommelier. The quality of the product is important as much as personality and fortune, so I need to focus only on gelato making and business networking, leaving everything else to my staff. The production process is very simple but in order to create new peculiar flavors, like jasmine tea with roasted rice and wine, I have to study the right combinations of ingredients and sugar ratio.
Bulgarini’s gelato is really different and – while Italians are a bit more conservative – American customers do appreciate it.
What are your plans for the future?
In addition to our shops in Altadena and Culver City, I am planning on selling gelato to the restaurants, starting only with one or two flavors so as to keep good quality standards even when production increases.
My idea is to combine each new flavor that I make with a specific wine, teaching people how to mix the ingredients and enjoy a better culinary experience. Restaurant owners are cautious, some of them even skeptical, as they prefer to sell their customers a bottle of wine instead of just one glass to match with gelato. Nevertheless, I have many followers who wish to experience something new in this field. And I will gladly give them an example of it on the occasion of the “Cocktail Confidential” event on September 1st for the LA Times “The Taste Festival” at Paramount Pictures Studios.