Since opening Dolce Neve gelateria on south First Street, Marco Silvestrini, along with his sister Francesca and her fiancé Leo, have delighted and excited critics and customers alike with their authentic Italian gelato. Recently, Marco shared his thoughts with us on the shop’s success, shopping the SFC Farmers’ Market and making gelato at home.
How would you describe your first year and a half in business?
A lot of fun and work! None of us had ever owned a business before and we had to learn quickly how to run one. By looking back, I see we accomplished a lot and we grew considerably as individuals.
New businesses are always full of surprises, what has surprised you the most?
I was surprised by the support we received from the neighborhood. Everybody welcomed us and many customers became some of our closer friends.
We’re not short on ice cream shops around here; what made Dolce Neve click?
I think because of the product and the experience we offer. There is nothing fake about us. They can see us shopping at the farmer's market, they can see the ingredients that we use, they can see us working in the kitchen.
Some of our customers come to Dolce Neve because it reminds them of the time they spent in Italy. It is a way for them to forget about their problems and just enjoy the moment.
According to our market team, you’ve been coming to SFC’s Downtown Farmers’ Market “religiously” to buy ingredients, and you source your dairy from a local supplier. Why does sourcing from local suppliers matter to you and what got you started?
Buying locally is part of our culture; when we were kids in Italy, our parents used to take us local farms to buy eggs, meat, cheese, veggies and fruit; ingredients just taste better close to the source.
We were doing our grocery shopping at the SFC's farmers' market even before we opened the shop. Purchasing for the shop was a natural transition for us.
What do you like about working with local suppliers?
They are our partners and we know them personally; we know how they grow their products (in some cases we also visited their farms); we just trust them. Some of them, when they have new items, reach out to us in advance to know if we are interested in getting any.
Also, by buying directly at their farm stand, we have the option to pick and choose the fruit we want.
If you could change on thing about shopping at our markets, what would it be?
Ideally, I would love to have a better idea of what they are bringing that day to the market, or if any of them is not coming at all.
In addition to traditional flavors, you’re well known for using seasonal ingredients, even some unusual ones like sweet potato. Where do you look for inspiration when you work with seasonal ingredients?
Everywhere; we often get inspired by desserts we had in the past and by the work of other talented pastry chefs (for example, we once had a chamomile pannacotta at Barley Swine made by Susana Querejazu and we decided to make a gelato version)
In some cases, the farmers come to us with some unexpected ingredients and we start playing with them (e.g, we once did a sorrel gelato, after Tecolote Farm suggested it)
In other cases, we just start from the ingredients and how can combine them to make a great flavor.
Last, but not least, our customers are often a great source of ideas
Have you come up with any flavors/pairings any that really surprised you?
We did a beet and chocolate chips (with beets from JBG). Beets have a very earthy flavor and we did not know if people would have reacted. Well, people absolutely loved the flavor!
Any that didn’t quite work?
Persimmons. We tried using them several times, but customers had a hard time falling in love with them.
You’re teaching a gelato and popsicle making class in SFC’s Happy Kitchen next week. Can you give us a few tips for making seasonal frozen desserts at home?
Always start from the best ingredients, especially milk and cream, that need to be organic and, more importantly, grass-fed. In-season now, a combination that will please kids and adults is peaches and goat milk yogurt.
I recommend using an ice cream maker; you can probably find a good one for not a lot of money. It’s also helpful to have a mixer, a whisk and a scale.
Gelato made at home tends to form ice crystals very quickly, so if you decide to make it, try to eat it within a couple of hours.
(We don’t think this will be a problem.)