Ice Cream Joins Cheese, Chocolate In Artisan Trend

A gelato company in Washington, D.C., is a model of a big trend in the food industry: going artisan. Plenty of people seem willing to pay the higher prices of vendors that use locally sourced products and make smaller batches. A dairy in Pennsylvania is Pitango Gelato's source for the high quality ingredients and natural flavors it sought.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Just down the street from our studios in Washington, D.C. a new gelato shop opened up recently. It's called Pitango Gelato and people line up to pay $5 for a small cup of Italian-style ice cream.� That's almost as much as they'd pay for a Starbucks coffee. A lot of money. Now, normally we wouldn't bring up developments in our neighborhood, but it turns out this shop is part of a growing food trend in artisan food, as NPR's Tamara Keith reports.��

TAMARA KEITH: It took three months and hundreds of miles behind the wheel for Noah Dan to find the milk he'd use in his gelato.�His search stopped here at the Spring Wood Organic Farm in rural Pennsylvania, where the cows wander green pastures and munch on grass year-round.

Mr. NOAH DAN (Pitango Gelato): And that's what brought me here initially, I was looking for the best milk I could get.

KEITH: This place is postcard-perfect.�I mean, there's even a litter of golden retriever puppies running around. Dan grew up in Israel, but he developed a taste for gelato visiting relatives in Italy.�

Mr. DAN: The idea was to create a product that is simple and wholesome, without any chemicals, based wholly on the strength of its ingredients.

KEITH: When Dan first showed up, the dairy's owner, Roman Stoltzfoos, didn't know what to think.��

Mr. ROMAN STOLTZFOOS (Spring Wood Organic Farm): I thought it was strange.�I didn't know what gelato was, didn't have a clue.

KEITH: It's like ice cream, but with a lower fat content.�That means it has less air and is more dense, often with a richer flavor.�Now Stoltzfoos knows gelato well.�About 10 percent of his dairy's milk goes to Pitango Gelato.

Mr. STOLTZFOOS: We like the fact that our milk is going into a product that is quality, that people can choose to buy.�Yeah, it's a little pricey, but what do you get for nothing nowadays?

KEITH: In addition to the milk, Dan gets eggs right here on the farm, too, from free range chickens. The eggs don't come cheap at $3.50 a dozen.

Mr. DAN: But we are happy to pay, you know, because that's the real cost of real food.

KEITH: But we're happy to pay it might as well be the motto at Pitango Gelato.�Dan delights at finding the very best ingredients, Pennsylvania red raspberries, organic vanilla from Papua New Guinea, pistachios from the foothills of Mount Etna in Sicily.��

And there are plenty of people who will pay extra for those kinds of premium ingredients, says Kara Nielson, the trendologist at the Center for Culinary Development in San Francisco.��

Ms. KARA NIELSON (Center for Culinary Development, San Francisco): That really resonates with a lot of people as a strong, clear way of the future, by way of the past.

KEITH: She's identified artisan foods - ice cream, cheese, chocolates - as one of the hot trends in the food business this year, even as a down economy has most consumers watching their expenses carefully.

Ms. NIELSON: There definitely is a price tag. And the trick is, you know, can a business person find the consumers that believe in what he or she is doing.

KEITH: Adam Borden agrees.�He's the managing director of Bradmer Foods, a specialty food venture capital fund.��

Mr. ADAM BORDEN (Managing director, Bradmer Foods): We are certainly trying to figure out whether artisan can become more mainstream. And I think by its very definition, it's designed to be filling a particular niche.� So in the case of Pitango, they certainly fill the niche for people who want a decadent treat.

KEITH: Borden is considering an investment in Pitango Gelato. He believes there's money to be made in offering high quality ingredients at a high price.�His biggest concern about Pitango's business model gets at something much simpler.�Winter.�People don't eat a lot of ice cream, or gelato, when it's cold.�

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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