It’s about that time of year when sun, a fair amount of rain, strawberries and sexy Spaniards hit SW19. To celebrate the tennis season, the gelato brand ‘Black Vanilla’ kick off a month-long Wimbledon pop-up at Harvey Nichols where the founder, Susan Stretch will showcase some of her amazing creations. Looking longingly at the list of flavours (I think she’s selling herself short) I believe she’s created tastes of the Summer season think Ascot, Wimbledon, Henley, Goodwood and Lords and then throw in a spot of Polo at Hurlingham and Windsor and some tennis at the Queen’s Club.
Susan’s ice-cream is made using only the finest ingredients and she uses zero additives. The brand was born in 2010 after she became frustrated at the lack of good quality, additive-free ice-creams on offer for her own children. She gave up her day job and dedicated her time to bringing high quality gelato to the market. Since her first shop in the heart of Greenwich, she’s expanding her brand on the high street and creating a retail range.
I’m a huge fan of gelato and have written about how it’s made by the company Venchi in an earlier blog so had no hesitation in writing up what Susan’s achieving in the world of ice cream
If you visit, you can expect to try chocolate ‘tennis’ balls dusted with green coconut hidden within, your choice of gelato filling.
No Summer picnic is complete without a generous helping of scones, jam and clotted cream so obviously there’s an homage to the tasty treat in the ‘Cream Tea’. Home made crushed scones are hidden in a wild strawberry and cream gelato.
When I get to sample the goods, I’ll be heading for the sorbetto featuring two of my favourite ingredients, Sipsmith gin and tonic, followed closely by a Pimm’s. Two hundred thousand glasses of the No 1 cup are sipped during the Championships and the iconic summer drink can now be eaten in the form of a refreshing sorbetto.
And to simply celebrate the English Summer, you can sample a delicate rose-water gelato with crystallised English rose Petals. If you fancy a refreshing blend of summer flavours you can try the green apple, wheatgrass & cucumber sorbetto. No Championships would be complete without champagne and strawberries and Black Vanilla’s wild strawberry & champagne sorbetto is a nod to the 28,000 kg of strawberries and the 25,000 bottles of Champers they sell each year.
Before she launches on June 12th on the Fifth Floor I caught up with Susan and asked her a few questions about the brand.
What sets Black Vanilla apart from the competition?
We try to be innovative with classic flavours, sourcing high quality ingredients to give our signature flavours a bit of a twist, such as Venezuelan Chocolate and Wild Strawberries and Cream. We have exceptionally talented gelato chefs who work tirelessly to make sure the balance of flavours are just right, as well as creating unconventional flavours such as Gin and Tonic Sorbetto and Strawberries and Champagne, to create that ‘wow’ factor!
What’s the secret to great gelato and sorbetto?
Gelato starts with a normal ice cream fior de latte base, but it’s churned slower and frozen at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream. The slow churning incorporates less air so the gelato is more dense. The higher freezing temp means the gelato stays silkier and softer and we use a higher proportion of whole milk to cream (and no eggs) so the main flavour ingredient shines through. Sorbets are dairy and fat-free, and made with fresh fruit. They are churned like ice cream to give them a soft, snowy texture.
Why is it important to source the products yourself and where do you go to find them?
It is important for us to source ingredients ourselves, to make sure a high quality for the final product. In our signature range we use single origin Venezuelan chocolate, wild strawberries for our Wild Strawberries & Cream gelato, as well as Himalayan salt for our salted caramel gelato. For our more traditional flavours in store, we use the finest pistachios from the Bronte region of Sicily, and hazelnuts from Piedmont, which all ensure maximum taste in our products.
Tell me about the range going into Harvey Nichols? Where did you get your inspiration?
Our signature range will be going into Harvey Nichols, and our pop-up flavours were inspired by quintessential British summer flavours, and found ingenious ways to incorporate them into gelatos and sorbettos – Rose Water Gelato with Crystallised English Rose Petals, Wild Strawberries and Champagne Sorbetto, Cream Tea Gelato, Sipsmith Gin and Tonic Sorbetto, Wheatgrass Apple and Cucumber Sorbetto, Pimms Sorbetto.
Do you think you can make great gelato outside Italy?
We use Carpigiani gelato machines (the Rolls-Royce of gelato making equipment) to make our product, and source the finest ingredients to make our gelato as authentic as those found in an Italian gelateria. Although we believe in locally sourced ingredients and aim to source as many of our ingredients from local suppliers as possible, we do use some products such as hazelnuts and pistachios from Italy, as these give our gelatos the best flavours possible.
How important is it that you work closely with your neighbours?
We love all things local, and are proud to say we are born and bred in Royal Greenwich. We collaborated with Meantime Brewery who are neighbours of ours, and we created a limited edition Chocolate Porter gelato with Black Cherries and a Raspberry Wheat Beer sorbetto.
Are you planning outlets beyond Harvey Nichols?
We have 2 locations in South East London – Royal Greenwich and Blackheath Village, and we are very excited to be in Harvey Nichols with our Wimbledon pop-up and edible tennis balls, and we will also be launching our 120ml signature flavours throughout the country this summer. We also love to get involved in street food events, where our gelato chefs get to have ultimate creativity, making weird and wonderful flavours, and we’re excited to be involved with the Hampton Court Music Festival, where we get to showcase our gelato!
If you can’t wait until 23rd June you can sample Black Vanilla’s gelato and sorbetto at any of their two stores – 5 College Approach, Greenwich or 32 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath. For more information visit their website.