The Big Chill

One Valley gelateria has the competition licked

For many, the appeal has as much to do with the notion that it's low-fat as with its addicting texture or flavors.

To hear Moreno Spangaro talk about it, it's downright healthful.

"There's nothing wrong with butterfat," he says, reassuringly. "I eat two, three scoops a day."

Moreno Spangaro makes his gelato one pan at a time.
Peter Scanlon
Moreno Spangaro makes his gelato one pan at a time.
Loyal Arlecchino lovers dig into their weekly gelato feast.
Peter Scanlon
Loyal Arlecchino lovers dig into their weekly gelato feast.

The guy looks athletic and he doesn't even exercise. And yes, he says, gelato has less butterfat by definition. The frozen dairy dessert needs to contain a minimum of 2.75 percent butterfat, and averages between 7 and 9 percent, depending on the region of Italy. (Arlecchino's ranges from 6.5 to 9.5 percent) Once it surpasses 14 percent, it becomes ice cream, and it goes up from there to premium ice cream.

The dense texture that sets gelato apart from ice cream actually has to do with the way it's made — an ice cream machine's narrow, faster-spinning spatula incorporates more air into the product, while a gelato machine's wider, slower-turning spatula incorporates less.

And what's the difference between sorbet and fruit gelato? They're both water-based, Spangaro explains, but the latter consists of less than 30 percent fruit. Sorbet, on the other hand, can be anywhere from 30 to as much as 70 percent fruit, depending on what kind is used, creating intensely concentrated flavors. Spangaro says all his fruit flavors have zero fat.

Because each fruit has a different level of sweetness, a different ratio of solids to liquids, and different freezing properties, there's no blanket formula for making sorbet. Fruit makes things complicated, Spangaro says, because each one needs its own recipe to achieve the best texture without getting icy or gummy.

For any given recipe, he uses the highest possible amount of fruit. Consider that one 3.5-kilo pan of Arlecchino's blood orange requires at least 20 pounds of fruit, which he juices by hand; regular orange takes about 15. For berry flavors, Spangaro can easily use three pounds.

His handy kitchen calculator makes it all possible, but certain things he can't control.

"The only difference between me making strawberry today or tomorrow is whether the strawberries are better today or tomorrow," he says.


On a crisp, sunny Wednesday morning in late March, the farmer's market at Town & Country plaza in central Phoenix is bustling. Amid crates of shiny apples and pears in shades of green and red, retirees reach into bins of baby spinach, while young women push strollers past rows of pale, peach-colored grapefruit. Moreno Spangaro is here too, ready to stock up on fruit for the next few days. What's available today will determine the flavors he'll make.

Bob McClendon, the certified organic grower who's selling most of the produce at the weekly market, greets Spangaro like an old friend. With his cropped gray hair, denim shirt, and wide, black back-support belt, McClendon has a grandfatherly air, and he chats while Spangaro wanders off to scope out the citrus.

"I didn't have gelato until I had Moreno's gelato," McClendon says. "I won't work with anyone else. I call him a gelato chef! He's a master. He's the only one who cares about what's in his gelato."

That's a huge compliment. At high-end local restaurants, McClendon's name has cachet — "McClendon's Select" often appears on menus where every precious ingredient comes with provenance.

"We have about 30 restaurants we deal with, which is about 90 percent of our business. We deal with discriminating chefs who really care about ingredients," says McClendon, who counts Spangaro among this town's culinary elite. "He's no different from Chris Bianco, Chrysa Kaufman, or Kevin Binkley," referring to the chefs at Pizzeria Bianco, Rancho Pinot, and Binkley's, respectively.

McClendon goes on to talk about how the harsh winter affected his business. He had blood oranges for about only a month this year, and then there was the freeze in January that destroyed everything.

Just then, Spangaro walks up, and McClendon turns to help a customer. Yes, Spangaro agrees, those were really good blood oranges. He made a couple of pans of gelato with them, and then the supply ran out. By the way, he wonders aloud, how many gelato shops are still selling blood orange-flavored gelato right now? At some places, it's available all year.

"How do you get blood oranges in June, July, August, and it looks like a red Ferrari?" Spangaro says, incredulously. "I've had people say to me, 'What? Do you squeeze the oranges yourself? You're crazy. Why don't you make it simple?' And these were people who own gelato shops."

Apparently, people who own gelato shops are his biggest critics. He mentions a number of run-ins with competitors — all unnamed — who've come into Arlecchino to question his methods. Does he really cook his own chocolate from scratch? Are the gelato bases really homemade? Is the pistachio gelato really made with 100 percent pure Sicilian pistachios, with no fillers?

He laughs it all off, though, and says he knows a good testing lab that could prove the purity of his gelato ingredients, if it came down to it. Spangaro's an unabashed quality freak.

But it's no surprise, considering his background. He and his wife, Marina, grew up in Trieste, Italy, a city well-known for its coffee — Illy Coffee is based there — and its gelato. Spangaro estimates there are about 45 gelato places to serve a population of 270,000. Because it's a port city on northeastern Italy's Adriatic coast, Trieste's been a cultural hot spot for centuries.

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12 comments
Ben
Ben

Viva La Arlecchino! Anybody who claims this as overpriced severely undervalues top quality... A scoop of heaven for $4? I'll take 2 please.

Giorgio Tresoldi
Giorgio Tresoldi

This is what the New times is all about, I'm garateful you do stories about the small guy doing a better job than the big companies, I refuse to eat the baskisn's the dipping's the ben's and all the other chemical artificial colors and flavors.......for the price of real stuff, I hope arlecchino keeps up the quality and does not enter the game of the big companies with kids runing the store and fast instant gelato like others.

Danila Marchetti
Danila Marchetti

It's good to have a healty alternative, franchises are poisoning us with the processed,and artificial flavors and colors.

Rosa Cordova
Rosa Cordova

I travel to phoenix just for the gelato!

frank medina
frank medina

I used to go there to get the pizza at the place next door at la grand orange but now I go to arlecchino to get gelato.....then if I have room pizza!

aldo magnano
aldo magnano

this is the best gelato i have ever tasted, glad you did the story, went there and tried it earlier, it was hard to stop ordering more, going back after dinner.oh yeah the guy that said it's overpriced, compared to what? other gelatos and ice creams are about the same and they are air filled.

aldo magnano

Harland Beuden
Harland Beuden

WOW! I could not believe the great taste of the pistachio gelato, out of this world.

Guille Castillo
Guille Castillo

I'm hooked for life, best gelato I have ever tasted, my favorite is the coffe, as far as the comment someone made about it being overpriced.....crazy! it's the best product for the money.

Guille castillo

sergio moreno
sergio moreno

as a proffessional pilot I have traveled the world and in Italy got hooked on gelato, I have walked the main streets in Rome,Milano and Verona trying every gelato shop in sight, my amazement was I found the best gelato in phoenix at arlecchino gelateria, when you learn how gelato is supposed to taste you can tell if there are chemicals, when the gelato is gummy or tastes good at first but than you get the aftertaste you know there are chemicals and preservatives in it, also if you feel sleepy or heavy after heaving your gelato you have consumed corn syrup instead of good quality sugar, the beatiful bright colors belong on clothing not in gelato.thank you Marina and Moreno for bringing to phoenix the best gelato I have ever tasted.

sergio moreno, El Paso texas

so what
so what

4 pages on overpriced ice cream? Slow news year?

 
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