The day started off like any other: Team Woblet woke up in our respective residences, guzzled coffee, got dressed, and drove to work. So far, so normal. But mid-afternoon two of us left the office on a very exciting errand. We were on our way to Honeysuckle Gelato’s production facility on the Westside, and we were there to make gelato. Not just any kind of gelato, but a custom Woblet gelato flavor. All of our dreams were coming true.
Honeysuckle Gelato was founded three years ago by friends Jackson Smith, Wes Jones, and Khatera Ballard. Of the three, only Jackson had experience in the gelato business; he’d worked in gelato production (read: gelato-making) at the much-lauded Il Laboratorio del Gelato in New York City. Without any formal culinary training, all of Jackson’s gelato knowledge comes from his time at Il Laboratorio, but it’s clearly all he needed. We speak for the entire city when we say that we’re lucky that he chose to return to Atlanta, his hometown, and start making gelato that would speak to the region in which he grew up.
The idea of “Southern-inspired gelato” might seem surprising, but that’s the mission behind Honeysuckle Gelato. When Jackson was working at Il Laboratorio, he and Wes noticed a total lack of gelato in the South. They wanted to introduce the frozen treat to the region, but in a way that would still be recognizable. Thus, Honeysuckle is famous for flavors like Bourbon Pecan, The Kang (banana with peanut butter & caramel), and Sorghum. They even make a waffle-flavored gelato, for which Jackson once begged some batter from a Waffle House. Talk about homegrown.
For the record, gelato is not really such an unfamiliar concept to Southerners. Gelato is the Italian word for “ice cream”, and while it differs from the American version of ice cream in some key ways, it’s the same basic concept. If you want to read a thorough description of the ways the two treats differ, check out this post on Serious Eats, but to summarize: gelato has less fat and less air than ice cream. The lower air content makes it thicker than ice cream, but because it’s served at warmer temperatures, it is just as (if not more) creamy as the American stuff. And a little better for you, which might be decidedly anti-Southern, but we think the fact that Honeysuckle puts real bacon in some of their flavors more than makes up for it.
So, what is it like to work in a gelato production facility? Let’s just say it’s our version of Disneyworld. The very phrase “gelato production facility” makes at least some of Team Woblet want to burst into song.
But enough about our ice cream/gelato obsession—we’re all here for the food. We began with a picture perfect tableau of the ingredients we’d use that day. We were making blueberry basil gelato with chocolate chunks—blue for Woblet, basil because Jackson likes herbs in his gelato, and chocolate because chocolate. Duh.
First we combined all of the ingredients—except the chocolate—in a tub.
Then we took a giant immersion blender to it.
Jackson cleaned the ice cream machine from the last batch of gelato that had just finished spinning.
And we poured the gelato base into it.
Gelato is made in the same machines as ice cream. The difference is that the machines are run at a slower speed and colder temperature. The slow speed is integral to gelato-making: as discussed earlier, the key differences between ice cream and gelato are that gelato has less air and less fat. The slow speed allows less air to become integrated into the mixture, and as Jackson told us, “Because the machine runs slower, you can use less fat and get a smoother texture.” The dairy Honeysuckle uses for their gelato base is about 8% fat, while ice cream dairy base is usually between 12-15% fat.
While we waited for the gelato to finish spinning, we did a little taste testing. We tried one of their bestsellers, the Espresso gelato, as well as their new ice cream sandwiches.
And then the gelato was finished. It’s a slower churn, but it’s still pretty speedy. As the gelato poured out, Jackson layered it in the tub with the chocolate chunks. It was very hard to watch without putting a spoon in the tub.
We left it overnight to fully freeze and came back for it in the morning. And then ate it at the office.
Like we said, it was a dream come true.
Image of Honeysuckle founders via the Huffington Post.
From the Woblet blog, March 27, 2014. Read it at Woblet.