Learn How Gelato is Made By Hand at Neapolis in Wakefield
Owner Pasquale Illiano takes pride in making artisan-style Italian gelato at his new South County shop.
It’s a bustling Tuesday morning at Neapolis, the new sister store to Pasquale’s Pizzeria. Fridges are stocked with handmade pastas and carefully cut slices of prosciutto and mortadella are packaged for the first customers of the day. In the middle of it all, tucked away in a neat corner behind a countertop stocked with baskets of freshly baked breads, owner Pasquale Illiano is ready to start making the gelato.
After entering the local scene in 2015 with award-winning Neapolitan-style pizza certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana at Pasquale’s Pizzeria, Illiano expanded by opening Neapolis last October to offer an even wider variety of favorite foods from his beloved homeland. The homemade gelato is a standout menu item, giving Rhode Islanders a sweet taste of authentic Italy.
The process of making gelato is relatively simple, but Illiano’s quality ingredients and attention to detail make it something special. He learned the ropes at his first job in Naples, working at a friend’s neighborhood gelateria in the early ’90s. Now, he experiments with his own flavors, from almond orange biscotti to rum raisin with toasted pine nuts, and even extra virgin olive oil. The air fills with the smell of pistachios, dark chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla as Illiano opens containers and prepares his workspace.
First, he makes a base out of pure cane sugar, milk and cream. The dairy comes from Terra Firma Farm in Stonington, Connecticut, and Illiano is adamant about shaking the milk first. When the milk fat slightly separates in the bottle, “it’s a sign of good, fresh milk,” he says. Then the flavor is added. Illiano uses a popular Italian brand called PreGel, short for preparati per gelato, which makes concentrated flavors without any additives or chemical preservatives. Now the base ingredients are mixed with an immersion blender. This step is the most important because it will determine the texture of the finished product.
“You have to take your time mixing ingredients because that’s what makes a smooth gelato,” Illiano says.
With careful mixing, even a dairy-free sorbet (which is made with a water base instead of milk and cream) feels rich and silky in your mouth. After the base is properly mixed, it goes into the Bravo Trittico. This machine is separated into two parts: a pasteurizer to gently warm the base and a batch freezer to shock the temperature back down. The pasteurizer will bring the base temperature up to about 85 degrees. While most American gelato is made with a cold base, Illiano prefers the artisan method of warming the ingredients first, which opens up the flavor.
“What makes a difference from one gelato place to another is how you work with the flavors,” Illiano says. “When you taste ice cream, it’s the cream that jumps in your mouth. With gelato you really get the flavor first.”
After reaching 85 degrees in the pasteurizer, the ingredients are transferred to the batch freezer, which will cool to about negative-8 degrees. Mixing blades in the batch freezer will also thicken the base, transforming it into gelato or sorbet. Finally, the gelato is frozen overnight to reach a final temperature of about negative-30 degrees. Then, with a few artful swirls and turns of a spatula to make the sizable mound of gelato look presentable, it’s ready for the display case. Since the gelato at Neapolis is created with all-natural ingredients, it has to be made fresh every few days. You won’t find a backup supply in the freezer because of the gelato’s short shelf-life, so when you see your favorite flavor, order it before it’s gone.
By Kaitlyn Murray
Neapolis is more than just gelato. “Neapolis is the old name for Naples — it means ‘new city,’ ” says Illiano. “Between here and the restaurant next door, we’re trying to offer the authentic Italian experience.”
The emporium imports many of its goods straight from the bel paese (that’s “beautiful country” in Italian) itself. “We work with a lot of great importers,” says manager Adamo DeFelice. “Take the buffalo mozzarella, for example. We get it once a week from Italy; they’ll make it on a Wednesday, and we’ll get it that Friday. It’s the real deal.”
More fresh imports include other cheeses like Parmesan and burrata, deli meats, veggies and specialty items like Nutella biscuits. “We also sell our own organic, unfiltered olive oil, too, using two kinds of olives from Italy. We bought a whole harvest,” says Illiano.
As for homemade products, visitors can expect everything from sauces to fresh cut pasta. Neapolis’ fridges also contain to-go meals that are prepared daily, with a regular rotation of chicken, veal and pasta selections primed to pop in the oven for a quick dinner at home. Or, if you’re looking for lunch, stop by the sandwich counter for pre-made or made-to-order cold cut options. The emporium also plans to have online ordering available by Labor Day.
And for those with a sweet tooth, the possi- bilities don’t end with gelato. “Between me, Adamo and our pastry chef, Amy, everything is made in-house,” says Illiano. “We have cannolis, tiramisu, different flavors of mousse, Neapolitan rum cakes, bomboloni stuffed with berry pastry cream, chocolate chip cookies, cheesecake slices, waffle cones for the gelato, you name it. And of course we do seasonal items like wheat pies for Easter and zeppole for St. Joseph’s Day.”
Meanwhile, coffee connoisseurs can order an authentic espresso or cappuccino and bread heads can pick up a fresh loaf or two. And if you’re looking to spoil someone in your life, you can also select products from throughout the store to create a custom gift basket.
“It’s funny, people come in to get one thing and they’ll walk right past the shopping baskets we have, but then twenty minutes later they’ll come up to the register with an armful of products,” says DeFelice. “And every week we have something new,” adds Illiano. “It seems like people are digging it.” neapolisri.com