In a red stucco building along the rail siding at the edge of Kennett Square recently, Bob Bada was hand-packing his latest batch of Gelati di Capri, slamming each half-filled pint on the stainless steel table to burp out the air, creating a racket - like goats doing flamenco.
This is Bada's newest venture, two years now in the refining (though he's still not taking a salary), finally getting traction - in the freezers in two Whole Foods Markets in Philadelphia, and in health-food stores from Kimberton to his sentimental favorite, Spring Run Natural Foods, his first customer, in Kennett Square.
He is not letting nature take its course. He samples the stuff in stores, hawks it on the sidewalk: I first encountered him - in a burgundy beret - offering tastes in front of the Narberth American Family Market on an unseasonably warm day weeks ago, his pints of holiday egg nog, vanilla and Bada Bing (a fudgy chocolate, almond, bing cherry) wilting despite the tub of ice.
Gelati di Capri roughly means "ice cream from goats," or let us be clear, "goat's
." We'll get into its particular qualities in a moment, though suffice to say it can have an icy, slightly crystalline texture if you try to eat it still hard-frozen. Let it soften for several minutes, though, and it has an appealingly light, clean finish, closer in mouthfeel to what they used to call ice milk (or some sorbets or frozen yogurt) than the creamy richness associated with handcrafted, cow's-milk Italian gelati.
It is spun in a three-gallon batch freezer, made indeed with sweet goat milk from an Amish farmer. (One sampler said he'd prefer
goatiness.) It doesn't skimp on artisanal add-ins - crumbs of Gilda's awesome local biscotti, intense Scharffen Berger Chocolate cocoa, mandarin-orange paste in the lemon-boosted Mandarin Cremesicle.
It has the appropriate regalia on the label,
these days for certain shelves: Bada ditched the orginal fructose. A sticker says: "Now with Agave," the latest sweetheart of natural foodies.
For a while, the label listed "coconut oil," a fat-enhancer (along with egg yolks), since goat's milk is too low in butterfat - between 4 and 6 percent, half that of most ice creams - to make non-icy ice cream. But Bada felt regular coconut oil had a woodsy scent, and that organic coconut oil smelled overpoweringly of, well, coconut.
He took it out, adjusting the gums instead.
So it goes, a man and his ice cream, tweaking it in this austere laboratory space in a building that - as befits its setting in Chester County mushroom country - once held a cooler to grow mushroom spores, and still houses a producer of mushroom-cutting tools.
He doesn't converse so much as declaim, a trait made mildly comic by the puffing of the gauzy sanitation net covering his mouth and goatee: His heart doctor isn't sure why goat's milk might be heart-healthy. But Bada has done some Internet research, and will give him the scoop on his next visit. He is big on chain triglycerides, and milk-fat globules, those of the goat being smaller than those of the cow and, thus, he asserts, easier to digest.
But as much as he holds forth, he is also a candid and undefensive man, about his hard journey and about himself: He was indeed a "chef." But that was, as he puts it, in the city's "pre-renaissance days," in a haunt above the Khyber Pass, and venues of lesser distinction.
The "entrepreneurial spirit" he invokes? It was 16-hour days manning a cart selling Greek hamburgers near on 19th Street in the '80s (before his car died). In the '90s, he peddled $10 grocery packs to retirees on tight budgets.
He flirted with schemes to make hoisin sauce, and low-cal alfredo sauce. He tried frozen chile rellenos. (Thawed out too mushy!)
But what he was doing for a day job was managing the bulk bins at a Whole Foods. Then it hit him: Goat-milk gelati didn't disagree with him like regular ice cream. Plus, he could gear up a lot cheaper than trying to find a plant to manufacture Chinese hoisin sauce.
So here he stands, with his Mexican helper, banging out pints on the edge of Kennett Square; on the edge (maybe this time?) of greatness.