Chapter 3 Making Gelato

Our first factory in Bangkok 2004

The Details are important-later

Almost invariably people considering the gelato manufacturing business want to know abut profit–EXACTLY how much money per stop they will make.I always reply, “If you sell a lot you will make money and if not, not. Profit is important but it comes from the volume of sales.

As with commercial ice cream, gelato starts its life as a base powder and a flavoring that is somewhat similar to a thin jam. Flavors are sometimes called “paste.” Most shops buy pre-packaged ingredients because of the machinery required and the large number of diverse components required to make the many bases and flavors required. In our factory for example, we stock 250 components to make 5 different bases and 50 flavors.

The base comes as a powder and is mixed with water or milk. If store-bought milk is used, it is already pasteurised, so further pasteurisation is usually not required.Bases to which you add water already contain powdered milk. No matter what you heard, fresh and powdered milk can produce the same quality product.

Commercial gelato manufacturing bases are machine-made and packaged, untouched by human hands. Also, the ingredients are manufactured at high temperatures and machine packed, so even the components are very clean or almost sterile. Also, fresh milk gelato is usually made with pasteurized/homogenized store-bought milk, so both the moral and legal requirement to pasteurize has been met.

Since gelato is made fresh, stored at very low temperatures and sold quickly, it is unlikely to develop contaminants from the ingredients. In fact, most contaminates if any come from dirty hands while manufacturing, not from contaminated materials. For these reasons the pasteurizer is disappearing in smaller operations. Larger manufacturers prefer a pasteurizer because it mixes, drives a maximum amount of air into the product and then keeps it cold until use.

Once the base is made into mix, it is chilled 2-3 hours, which makes it creamier. Then it is ready to be made into ice cream.

Gelato manufacturing is done in a “batch freezer,” which is a machine with a freeze chamber and a powerful scraper motor. The mix is poured into the freeze chamber and the machine is started.

At this point the flavor is usually added, unless it was already a part of the base. Fruit flavors are delicate and should never be added to the hot mix as this may damage the flavor. They have been previously pasteurised and also acidified with citrate, both of which retard the development of bacteria.

A rotating scraper, called the “dasher” scrapes the hardened ice cream off the freeze chamber walls and tumbles it, adding a small amount of air, which is essential. The finished product is extruded from the machine at about -6°C (-21°F) into a pan. It can be swirled and decorated for sale by the scoop or put into a cup for bulk sale.

Once the gelato is made it is blast frozen as quickly as possible to at least -28°C. in order to arrest ice crystal formation. It is then ready for sale.

Whether to make gelato or buy and sell commercial ice cream is an important decision. Of course the first reason is that a manufacturing setup is expensive and the operators require training. Gelato equipment to both make and sell gelato including ingredients can cost between $18-35,000.

In addition to the cost of the manufacturing equipment, air conditioning, clean water, factory space, storage space, workers and delivery are required. Also, you will need a retail outlet unless you stick exclusively to manufacturing and selling wholesale. Some operators make the gelato where they sell it, which makes management easier but may mean added cost for the extra space.

Small Gelato Factory

The small factory shown here was designed by us for one of our franchisees and is in actual operation. It is in a ‘minimum” space and we suggest a larger one if you can get it. The storage area is not shown.

This factory, with two 18 L water cooled batch machines can produce about 900 L of gelato in about 9 hours.

 In this factory the powdered milk base is first mixed with just-boiled water, chilled in the upright freezer and then poured into the batch machine. We always recommend having two batch machines so you have a back-up and also sometimes you get big orders.

After the ice cream is made it is stored in the blast freezer and later transferred to the top-opening freezers prior to shipment. The shelves in the center store flavors most of which do not require refrigeration after opening.

Product Line

Gelato is usually extruded into tubs which are then decorated for sale as scoops or extruded into cups or packages for bulk sale.

Gelato can be made into cakes and rolls. It can be scooped into little balls that are first blast frozen and then dipped in chocolate or other coatings.

Another popular product is ice cream on a stick. These are made in molds and once blast frozen they are removed and dipped in a coating. The coating, called a “comfiture” is either a liquid at room temperature or is melted in slightly warm water.


Wholesale is an important part of every ice cream business.  In many cases restaurants or hotels will want a free freezer to store the product. If they are selling from a menu an inexpensive chest freezer will do and you can use the freezer as a way of getting a 2-3 year contract. You can even ask for a deposit on the freezer which helps reduce you out-of-pocket expense.

Display freezers where the restaurant or hotel sells by the scoop are much more expensive than chest freezers and are usually too costly to give for free. But you can offer the buyer a long-term lease and also a performance guarantee, which will help reduce out-of-pocket expense.

Read a lot more about ice cream manufacture in The Gelato-Maker’s Guide.

Why do people make gelato?

Gelato is a superior product that tastes better, looks better and is healthier than commercial ice cream. It is usually sold from highly decorated tubs, which make the product look very alluring. The shops that sell it often also sell gourmet pastry, cookies, crepes, espresso, granita and light food. It is often sold in upscale malls or areas where people with money go and in those areas the people know they will be paying more for whatever they buy.

Also, there is a huge amount of commercial ice cream available everywhere and selling it is very competitive. Gelato is a niche with much less competition, competing for a smaller market that is too small for most commercial manufacturers to enter.

Why do people sell commercial ice cream?

The mass-appeal of commercial ice cream is hard to deny. Many people grow up eating economy or trade quality ice cream and develop powerful food habits for it. They actually don’t like quality ice cream! We once took our gelato to a Thai funeral in a poor area. The people liked the chocolate and the strawberry but everything else was left untouched. It was either “too strong,” “too tart” or “strange.” They had spent a lifetime eating the artificially-flavored high-fat products like Walls and those are what they preferred.

Buying commercial ice cream is simple. If you franchise you can advertise a brand name. if not, you can shop around and in many cases the same brand-name manufacturers sell the same quality ice cream in a plain package or use another name for it. So, you can get some real bargains and better quality.