A gourmet ice-cream brand sold exclusively in the Algarve makes use of a Portuguese staple, medronho
Born in Italy, Roberto Balzer moved to the Algarve 30 years ago with the idea of creating his own brand: La Dolce Vita. He started with pizza and pasta restaurants, in 1987, and in 2014, his dream of making artisanal ice cream using his own recipes finally came to life.
Located in Praia da Rocha, Portimão, the frozen treats factory can ship out up to 800 litres of ice cream every day to well-known hotels and restaurants throughout the region, such as Vila Vita Parc, in Porches. “I always dreamed of selling my own artisanal ice cream. I took a course with the third-best ice cream maker in the world, in Italy, and started developing my recipes for a few clients, family and friends. But the number of orders started growing and the business followed suit,” Roberto recalls.
So what makes the brand so successful? “This ice cream is made with carefully selected produce and high-quality, raw materials. We have fruit from the Vicentine Coast and the Algarve, such as Silves oranges and lemons. The pistachio we use comes from Bronte, in Sicily, which is the world capital of this fruit. We use milk from that same day, the cream is fresh and both are national. We also have Madagascar vanilla and cacao from Ecuador,” he explains. “In addition to that, we make the orders on the spot and don’t add any flavouring, artificial colouring, genetically modified organisms, vegetable fats or preservatives. The recipe is 100% natural. I believe the key to success comes from the marriage between raw materials, the recipe, dedication, experience and freshness.”
Every day, from morning to night, through winter and summer, the factory puts together several orders of countless flavours. Traditional fruit sorbets are joined by recipes with different chocolates, gourmet tastings and even several alcoholic drinks. For this year, the ice cream maker has already decided the standout flavour — medronho, a traditional Algarve firewater made from the fruit of the strawberry tree. “I am the only one making this ice cream, that I know of. We are talking about a difficult recipe, because alcohol is an antifreeze agent. I had to a lot of perfecting and experimenting to achieve the result I wanted. The whole process took over a month,” Roberto reveals. The ice cream pairs wonderfully “with typical, regional desserts with figs, almond and carob. It is a good allusion to the Algarve, which can attract many connoisseurs and shows the best produce we have here”, he adds.
There are still recipes to be perfected and tested, but there is no shortage of peculiar flavours on the list: goat’s cheese; honey and rosemary; pastel de nata (traditional Portuguese egg-custard tart), complete with puff pastry and cinnamon; dark chocolate and ginger; and even Aperol Spritz, an alcoholic aperitif that complements an Italian drink with sparkling wine. Another unique and innovative variety in Portugal, according to Roberto, is the bread ice cream. All flavours are characterised by their rich creaminess and freshly made confection.
There is no limit for the Italian’s imagination, with all recipes are created and catered to a customer’s specific tastes. “Since I make the ice cream to order, I can create very specific flavours which people request for special occasions. I have made ice cream with chorizo, mushrooms, tomato and all kinds of beer,” Roberto says. Even with hundreds of varieties, his favourite is still Bronte pistachio — a flavour that holds the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) certificate, which confirms the place of production for this nut.
“Over the last decade, the Portuguese have started to recognise good ice cream, and when you try a good product, you can tell the difference immediately,” says the ice-cream maker, who grew up in a family also established in the culinary world. “I already have a lot of Portuguese ordering tubs to take home. It’s a growing audience,” he says. Still, there is no comparison with the biggest consumers — the Germans or “the Italians, who prefer to buy tubs instead of ice cream on a stick. When they go to someone’s house for dinner, Italians don’t bring a bottle of wine like the Portuguese, but rather a tub of ice cream”.
Roberto has a piece of advice for true ice cream lovers: “The worldwide trick to know whether there’s a good-quality product is to try the chocolate or pistachio flavours.” With retirement already in sight and the Italian award certifying the quality of his ice cream, he has just one more aspiration: “That one of my children continues with the business.”