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Happy Anniversary Legato Gelato!
by Hans Peter Meyer
In January, 2013 Jaki Ayton and Karen Fouracre, owners of Snapdragon Dairy, launched Legato Gelato at the Comox Valley Farmers' Market. A year later, they’re still the only goats’ milk gelato producers on Vancouver Island. With the help of market customers, they’ve extended their reach as far as Victoria to the south and Port Alberni in the west.
When Snapdragon Dairy first established its herd, it was on the basis of strong demand for goats’ milk by Salt Spring Island Cheese.
When the cheeseworks’ business model changed, Snapdragon had too much milk on its hands. The dairy needed to find more markets, or do something with the milk itself. Creating their own cheeseworks was not an option.
“Making cheese is a whole other level of skill and licensing, and there were already several very good goats' milk cheese makers in the region,” Fouracre said.
There were, however, no goats’ milk gelato producers on the Island. Jaki and Karen saw an opportunity. At the same time, some important infrastructure was developing in the region when the Canadian Cultured Dairy opened in Royston, and when Lush Valley opened a commercial kitchen in Courtenay. This encouraged Jaki and Karen to launch Legato Gelato. Production involves facilities at Lush, pasteurization in Royston, and the gelato technology at the farm in Fanny Bay. It’s an artisanal process that involves goat milk, local berries and other ingredients.
Gelato and ice cream are frozen dairy products. But once you take a lick, you’ll know the difference. There are a couple of reasons. Typically, ice cream can have 100—200 per cent air whipped into it while Gelato has 10—20 per cent, making for a denser, richer texture.
An upside with goats’ milk gelato is that it has about half the fat of cows’ cream, the staple ingredient in ice cream.
“And the servings of gelato are smaller," Fouracre said. "You don’t need so much to feel full because it’s so dense.”
After a year of development and jumping through regulatory and licensing hoops, Legato Gelato was ready to launch. Jaki and Karen chose the Farmers' Market for several reasons. One was the ready audience.
“It's a wonderful place to meet people, including other farmers, who are interested in what we're interested in: local food, good quality food, good tasting food,” Fouracre said. "Another reason is education. Most people are hesitant about goats' milk. They’re also hesitant to try something that’s priced as an artisanal, quality food. People want to know it’s good before they buy.”
Anyone who drops by the gelato table is encouraged to try a sample. Some walk away with a small tub. Others offer suggestions about new flavours, and new places to sell.
Legato Gelato — in stores in Victoria, Duncan, Port Alberni and Campbell River — will be expanding into more Island markets this spring. They’re also experimenting with new flavours, including a 'nettle' flavour with green tea and apple notes, and a peach and amaretto combination.
Public events where people can taste the products are important. Watch for Legato Gelato at the annual Motorcycle Roundup in Cumberland, and community fairs up and down the Island. You’ll see them again at the popular Flavour Gourmet Picnic in September. You can also taste their wares most Saturdays at the market.
There is a growing market for artisanal, quality food that extends beyond the Valley. For a place that already has a strong agricultural capacity, this is good news. The Valley’s industrial dairy economy is established. With the help of new infrastructure, it’s growing an artisanal economy that includes gelato made from local goats’ milk and local fruits, artisanal yogurt from grass-fed cows, and traditional mozzarella from water buffalo milk. These products are exported to Island and off-Island markets, bringing outside dollars back into the Valley. Legato Gelato is a small but important example of how secondary producers are extending the reach of local farm products to create export income. And it started with a tasting launch at the Comox Valley Farmers' Market.