Growing up, gelato was always a birthday treat. Paciugo’s cone was something that I only ate once a year or on very special occasions, given my family’s tendency to prefer the cheapness of Braum’s. After spending a week in Italy over Christmas, eating really fantastic San Crispino gelato in Rome and puke-worthy gelato in a random Florence shop, my loyalties still lie with Paciugo. It’s a little taste of Italy in Dallas. I sat down (actually, I stood up) with Paciugo’s top food science nerd, Diego Comparin, VP of Research and Development. He’s got a thick Italian accent and a passionate desire to make Paciugo’s gelato flavors as honestly as possible. Read on to hear how he does it.
Carol Shih: How long have you been doing this?
Diego Comparin: I’ve been doing this since I was born. I started to eat gelato and helped my father when I was young, and I got passionate about it. Then I took a degree in food science. Now I’ve worked at Paciugo for 10 years.
CS: Where were you born?
DC: Portonovo, Italy. A city close to Venice. About 50-55 miles from Venice. CS: And your father’s gelato shop is in Portonovo?
DC: Basically where i was born.
CS: What’s the biggest difference making gelato in Italy—the way your father makes it—and making gelato here?
DC: We use the same ingredients and the selection is pretty much the same. [Italy] definitely doesn’t have rocky road and red velvet cake. We have more classic flavors in Italy… our coconut, baccio, our lemon, pistachio, our stracciatella. When I came here I was pretty impressed and said, “Wow, it’s like Italy.” Many people go to Italy, but when you come here again, it’s really authentic. It’s really an Italian gelato.
CS: What’s your favorite flavor?
DC: I don’t have one personal favorite, but I’m definitely more akin to hazelnut, black cherry swirl, dark chocolate… these classics that I was born with.
CS: Do you ever get tired of eating gelato?
DC: It’s a phase. when I was a kid, there was a period where I was only eating lemon gelato. Then after a while, it changed.
CS: What phase are you in now?
DC: I will like my cup of hazelnut, black cherry swirl.
CS: What’s your least favorite?
DC: There is not something that is not good or doesn’t reflect what the fruit is. There’s not a fruit that I don’t know. The durian is banned in some hotels and restaurants because it smells so bad. But trust me, how we balance it, we created this recipe—it’s not my fruit, durian—but the flavor of durian that we created… the taste was balanced and reflected the experience of people who grew up eating it.
CS: Did y’all wear masks during the durian gelato development?
DC: Definitely the environment was affected…
CS: Ha. That’s a nice way of putting it.
DC: It’s not as bad, but definitely it’s more related to a tradition that’s not my Italian tradition.
CS: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
DC: The most challenging thing is reaching the perfection of the flavor that respects Italian tradition and the final flavor is something that really appreciates the American tradition. Spiced pumpkin is something that’s typical of American tradition. And you cannot mess with this tradition.