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I scream, you scream, we all scream for… gelato

There were a lot of things I didn’t know before my visit to Pluto Ice Cream’s HQ in Wichit. 1. Gelato and ice cream are distinctly differ­ent desserts (and you should really read up on that before meeting passionate Italian ge­lato chefs). 2. Gelato universities are a thing. 3. Thailand has a strong appetite for Pluto’s frozen treats which have been shipped and served across the country for almost two decades.

By Amy Bryant

Saturday 27 July 2019, 10:00AM

If you’ve been on the island for any significant stretch of time, there’s a strong chance you’ve sam­pled Pluto’s gelato yourself. You might not be aware of it, though, as Pluto specialises in events and wholesale, providing their desserts to hotels, resorts and restaurants often in the customer’s own branded tubs. A shame, really, given that the company logo is a memorable and meaningful one: a portrait of founder Giovanni Durante’s beloved dog, a pint-sized Pinscher, sporting a bow tie in the colours of the Ital­ian flag.

Giovanni brought the pup in question, Pluto, with him when he moved from Toirano, Italy to Koh Phi Phi in 1994. Although Pluto passed on some years ago, he is immortalised in the company name.

Koh Phi Phi was a different island when Giovanni and Pluto landed there in the ’90s. Not untouched but certainly not tainted by overtourism. In fact, the absence of electricity at night forced Giovanni to close his restaurant on the island as it was impossible to serve evening diners.

In 2001, some years after a consistent power supply was introduced, Giovanni set up a handful of gelato shops and stalls across the island. But just as business was picking up pace and the company was establishing itself – supplying major resorts such as JW Marriott and Le Meridien – the tsunami hit and Giovanni was forced to build the company up again from scratch.

Thailand continued to place obstacles in Pluto’s path over the proceeding years – customers’ restau­rants shut down by the military during coups, staff infected with SARS and bird flu, sales hampered by the hangover of the financial crisis – but the company has always come out on top.

Two Pluto shops remain at Koh Phi Phi’s Tonsai Bay, and in 2010 Giovanni set up a European-standard factory in Phuket, allowing Pluto to supply over 100 hotels and resorts in Phuket, Khao Lak, Krabi, Koh Samui, Bangkok, Pattaya and Chiang Mai. In high season, that means 1,000 kilograms of gelato per day zipping around the country by van and even plane for next-day delivery. Pluto caters to customers outside of the hospitality sector too, and are soon to launch on Foodpanda for that very reason.

What sets Pluto apart, and perhaps explains the company’s lengthy and fruitful career, is the bespoke nature of their products. All gelato is made to order and they don’t hold any stock. Not a single tub. Cus­tomers are free to request weird and wonderful fla­vours, and Giovanni and Director of Sales and Mar­keting Dario Schena are yet to turn down an order. Gorgonzola and pear? Sure. White and black truffle? Why not. Porcini mushroom? They’ll give it a go.

A host of local flavours, such as pandan, coconut and Thai milk tea, and classic flavours, like chocolate, straw­berry and vanilla, are also bespoke in that they can be made softer, richer, sharper, sweeter, sugar free, dairy free and more according to the customer’s preference.

Giovanni and Dario both studied at Carpigiani Gelato University in the suburbs of Bologna where they learnt the art and science of creating this artisa­nal iced treat and left as qualified gelatieres, joining some 12,000 graduates who have completed one of the school’s 500 courses. They credit the university for their creativity and experimentation with gelato, and Giovanni’s embossed diploma hangs proudly on the wall of his office alongside a portrait of Pluto.

So gelato is serious business. But what is the dif­ference between gelato and ice cream? While the key ingredients are similar – milk, cream and air – the proportions and churning of those ingredients make all the difference.

You get more bang for your baht with gelato, whose slow churning process gives it a dense texture with up to 25% air. Ice cream, on the other hand, is whipped, giving it a light, fluffy texture that’s up to 60% air, causing it to melt quickly.

More milk and less cream makes gelato much lower in fat, around 4-9%, or even 0% with some fruit gelato. Ice cream, however, is cream and egg heavy and so has 18-30% fat.

Ice cream also tends to be made on an industrial scale with artificial flavouring while gelato is artisanal, prepared in smaller batches with fresh, natural ingre­dients. And the higher serving temperature of gelato means easy access to those rich and natural flavours.

But now that begs a further question: why is the company called Pluto Ice Cream? For ease of under­standing, essentially. When Giovanni set up Pluto, he felt ice cream was a more familiar term in Thailand than gelato, although he’s since seen a growing under­standing of the differences.

Pluto Gelato certainly feels more apt a name (and not just because it rolls off the tongue nicely). Like ge­lato, Pluto has substance, is authentic to the core and hasn’t been quick to melt in the heat of the problems Thailand has thrown at it over the years.

The Pluto Ice Cream factory is located at 34/58 Moo 1, Wichit, 83000. Contact them by phone on (+66) 76 393 398 or by email at sales@icecreamthailand.com or visit www.icecreamthailand.com for more information.

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