URBAN FORAGER

Robert Klei — a.k.o. Roberto — of Roberto's Gelato in Osoyoos gets ready to scoop up one of his 24 flavours of gelato and sorbetto

Gelato, the Italian frozen dessert is credited to the Italian chef Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, who, in the late 1600s opened Café Procope in Paris, introducing gelato to the “City of Light” before the rest of Europe managed to get in a lick.

In Osoyoos, the tradition of artisanal gelato and sorbetto is alive and well at Roberto’s Gelato. Celebrating its 20th year scooping out the best, owner and ‘gelatician’ Robert Klei masterfully crafts up to 24 flavours with the spirit of a creative adventurer.

Following his dream since before moving to the South Okanagan, Klei, a self-professed ice cream and gelato aficionado, highlighted any outing or trip with a scoop served up with the fantasy of having his own place.

To see if his yearning was nothing but a pipe dream, he enrolled in a week-long intensive ice cream technology course at the University of Guelph. Confirming the notion of “do what you love and love what you do,” Robert — a.k.a. Roberto — has never looked back.

Gelato is denser than its counterpart ice cream, as it’s churned slower incorporating less air. It also utilizes less sugar and less cream, resulting in a treat that is not only low in fat, but silky and intensively flavoured. So, don’t worry so much about that extra scoop. Sorbetto highlights fruit to the max, be it fresh or fresh frozen, and is made without milk, making it 100 percent vegan and is as silky and densely flavoured as gelato. In addition, both are set at a specific temperature, lower than ice cream, which benefits the flavours overall.

Located on street level, his shop blasts out with bright yellow walls and a slick shiny showcase boasting the latest range of flavours. From the classic to the exotic, expect to be delighted with favourites such as crème brulee, dulce de leche, sea salt and caramel, Aztec chocolate and chilie, delicate rose petal, blood orange and the poplar mango, all mini flavour bombs in a cup or waffle cone. Take-away gelato in 650 ml containers is also available.

The busiest time for gelato sales is from 7 to 9 p.m. when customers patiently line up outside the shop as social distancing measures are in place. (Sorry, no samples this year.) They hail from Keremeos and Penticton, Nelson and Vancouver with a coterie of local residents who make a visit to Roberto’s a daily event. And discerning Italian visitors in the past have praised Roberto for his exacting creations.

From one to three-scoop offerings, customers can mix and match if they desire. He recalls the oddest combination in his two decade history: bubblegum and mango.

While most people in their 60s are planning to retire, Klei’s energy is focused on a 13-hour-day, seven-day-a-week schedule from spring to fall, that begins early each morning. Arriving by bicycle — he’s also an avid cyclist — he starts by making lists: what popular flavours have to be refilled and what new or seasonal flavours should be added. Instead of using pre-prepared base mixes (common in the gelato business), Klei makes his from scratch to have more control over the finished product. With a technician’s precision, using state-of-the-art Italian machinery, he can make seven to nine batches at one time, which take 20 minutes each. Tasting as he goes, he estimates he consumes at least a two-scoop serving size of frozen treats daily.

Seasonal ingredients always come into play, especially in the summer months. Lately, fresh local basil is being added to the lemon sorbetto, first-of-the-season apples for apple pie gelato, blackberries are being paired up with Okanagan-sourced merlot, and local peaches and apricots are blended into a refreshing sorbetto.

The latter includes the whole fruit skin, which adds a texture and colour element for the palate and the eye. A fearless experimenter, Klei has tried many flavour combinations — some have worked and some have not. For example, red beet gelato. “It was absolutely delicious,” he affirms. “Beautiful, colourful and creamy, but no one wanted it.”

Other flavours he loves, but don’t appear on his menu, are avocado and elote (sweet corn) which he and his wife and partner Gwen indulge in during their winter months in Mexico. Other treats on Roberto’s menu include milkshakes, smoothies, gelato floats made with San Pellegrino, and the classic Italian treat: affogato. Using an espresso roast from nearby Rock Creek Trading Post, the gelato of your choice is “drowned” in a perfectly wrought shot of espresso, with optional whipped cream flourish.

Open from 1-9 p.m. daily, until the end of September — it’s not too late to get your licks in. Roberto’s Gelato is located on Main Street at Park Place in Osoyoos. Email: robertosgelato.com

With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, a Penticton writer, cook and traveller, goes in search of the delectable.