January 19, 2018
When reflecting on his life in Vermont as owner of a company specializing in premium gelato products, Peter Solley of Vermont Gelato in Brattleboro recognizes the changes he’s seen in his life as an organic transition.
Once a musician and record producer who has played or worked with world-renowned performers such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Frampton and Ted Nugent, Solley now spends his days experimenting with delectable new flavors and working on moving his product line to an exclusively organic selection.
“Basically, our gelato is the best I’ve ever tasted,” Solley answered when asked what sets his product apart. “Everything is organic. The heavy cream and the milk and all the ingredients are the best you can get. It is expensive, but it is about the quality and that makes it special. We try not to be ordinary.”
A pint of Vermont Gelato is certainly unlike most any other frozen treat. When Solley explained the difference between ice cream and gelato, he described not only a dessert that is lower in fat due to the larger milk-to-cream ratio, but the fact that gelato is not churned like ice cream means that less air becomes incorporated into the final product. While premium ice cream can have about 25 percent air, cheaper brands can add up to 80 percent, giving gelato a “denser” texture that leaves a “more luscious flavor in the mouth.
But above and beyond the typical differences between ice cream and gelato, Vermont Gelato is made with a recipe that Solley developed himself. When he first started making gelato as part of his ownership with his wife and a partner in the Newfane Café and Creamery, Solley began with a small restaurant-style machine combined with a three-day course on the how-to of gelato making. When the couple sold their share in the café, the demand for Solley’s gelato continued and he moved production to his kitchen.
“One day I was at the Cotton Mill and I looked at this great little space, so I took it and then bought a bigger machine,” he said. “Since then I’ve added more equipment and we just moved into an even bigger space and we’ve gotten even more equipment.”
“The recipe has gradually evolved and about a year ago I changed it. When it comes out of the pasteurizer, it is just creamy and gorgeous,” Solley continued.
When the flavor is added, Solley adds just another twist on this top-notch treat. As mentioned, he uses only stellar ingredients. For example, instead of plain vanilla, Solley selects Tahitian vanilla for a superior experience and smooth taste. Other flavor options, depending on the seasons, include Root Beer Float, Fig Brûlée and Chipotle Chocolate, with many using local ingredients for in-season flavors.
“I sit down and we make a list and write down random thoughts,” Solley described the flavor development process. “A lot of them are just awful, but we are developing our new organic line and about a month ago we released a ginger, turmeric and black pepper (flavor). Instead of sugared ginger, I use ginger juice. Then we have a new one coming out called Vermont Maple and Bourbon. Each time we try to come up with something different that other gelato and ice cream people don’t do.”
The artisan flavors are just one aspect setting his gelato apart though. As Solley noted, his customers read labels and know that he cares enough to use the best.
“The gelato is good stuff made of really great ingredients. We use organic cane sugar and even the gums which are used to thicken are organic. It’s the best,” Solley said. “We are in the business of producing gorgeous-tasting gelato, but with healthy ingredients.”
While some of the ingredients have to be brought in, Solley does try to source locally whenever possible. Currently Thomas Dairy in Rutland supplies the milk and Solley shops the Brattleboro Food Co-op for other items.
“It is important to support the local community when you can,” he said.
In the future, Solley is hoping that a greater group of customers throughout New England might be willing to support his local business as he expands beyond eastern Vermont and western New Hampshire. He is also planning to jump exclusively to the organic market and concentrate on growing that line of his gelato.
Looking back, though, Solley said of his new life in Vermont making gelato, “It is another world. I spent 40 years producing and playing music and now I’ve stepped into a different world. I didn’t plan it, but it is who I am now – I’m gelato boy!”