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Naia Seeks Official Definition of California Gelato

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In these times of economic peril and Prop 8 controversy, some local businesses are, thankfully, concentrating on what's really important: the state's official definition of the word "gelato." Gelateria Naia, the Bay Area gelato chain with locations in North Beach, Berkeley and the Castro, has put forth a petition to the California Food and Agriculture Department to create a standard for gelato.

It's not an unprecedented move; there are similar rules in place for ice cream/froyo and it surely makes sense from a true gelateria's business standpoint. That said, we've got to wonder a) if the ends really justify the means here (there's a certain vibe of sour grapes), and b) how far should this "official definition" regulation business go? In any event, the full, gelato-regulatory press release follows:


In June of this year, Gelateria Naia, a San Francisco Bay Area based gelateria, petitioned the California Food and Agriculture Department to create a standard for the manufacture of gelato. The State currently defines ice cream, frozen yogurt, even frozen custard, but there is no legal definition for how gelato is to be made. Without the definition some manufacturers make ice cream and simply label it gelato hoping to benefit from the perception of a more unique and sophisticated product. Consumers, thinking they are enjoying an Italian treat, are the victims of clever marketing.

Chris Tan, owner of Gelateria Naia, which was founded in Berkeley in 2002 says, "There is a commonly understood standard for what gelato should be and that is, low in fat, a low amount of added air (or overrun,) and all-natural. We are trying to make that standard a legal standard."

The standard Gelateria Naia has submitted includes three key items to classify a product as gelato. Gelato must have between 4% and 7% milkfat. By comparisan, ice cream must have at least 10%. Gelato must have an overrun of not less than 6.4 pounds per gallon, which means not an excessive amount of air can be added. Gelato can contain no synthetic ingredients, meaning nothing artificial.

While those standards may seem too technical to matter to the average consumer, the amount of butterfat is a key factor in frozen desserts. "Lower fat content isn't meant to make it healthier. It is meant to follow the tradition of Italian gelato by allowing the flavor to come through without being masked by a lot of fat," says Tan, "It is truly what makes gelato different."

Trevor Morris, co-founder of Gelateria Naia and co-author of the petition says, "It may seem strange that we are trying to further regulate our industry, but the goal is simply to make it clear for both the consumer and the producer what gelato is and what it is not." The consumer is the one that may benefit most. Morris adds, "Many of the customers in our stores have no idea what gelato is. Customers who have been to Italy notice immediately that the good gelaterias make a unique product and that comes from low butterfat which is unlike American ice cream."

The petition has been accepted by the Milk and Dairy Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and is currently in the public hearing phase. A decision will be made whether or not to accept the new, legal definition in January.

[Photo courtesy]