Where’s the Cream?
This vegan gelato doesn’t need it
By Angela Knight
Andrea Seppinni loves dessert. About two years ago, she founded Conscious Creamery with her husband, Kevin. Their company makes artisanal gelato without dairy, eggs, mixes, artificial fillers, emulsifiers or stabilizers. Rotating crops of flavors are crafted from cashew cream, sugar and fresh, usually local fruit.
On a recent visit to the company’s commercial kitchen on Bell Avenue, Kevin is sitting in front of a computer. The “gelato trike,” which the couple’s daughter, Olivia, rides at local events, is parked behind him. Besides peddling gelato, Olivia handles social-media duties and helps out when needed. Splashes of the company’s signature robin-egg blue brighten the walls. Customers can tour the facility and pick up pints of gelato after placing their orders online.
The focus here is on Andrea and the kitchen, where she spends most of her time. This native Sacramentan moves fast and talks even faster. She’s petite, with wiry biceps. When she isn’t in motion, she balances on one foot as if in a yoga tree pose. The couple is putting everything they have into the business. “It’s a passion for me,” she says. “This is what we do.”
Organic strawberries purchased from Terra Firma Farm in Winters are cooling in racks after being sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and a pinch of cane sugar and slowly roasted. Roasting intensifies the flavor, caramelizes the fruit and removes moisture.
This batch will end up in Andrea’s roasted-strawberry gelato bars—frozen confections that give ice cream serious competition. She processes 11 pounds of strawberries at a time, yielding 8 quarts of gelato or 90 bars. She’s also tempering luscious chocolate (cocoa butter and 70 percent chocolate), which is the dip for chocolate-covered bars.
Almost everything is done by hand, although a small Emery Thompson machine churns the gelato in the “dairy” room. (Even though their gelato does not contain dairy, they are required to have a dairy room.) The plan is to install more and bigger machines to meet product demand, but even with ET’s help, making gelato is a labor-intensive process.
Andrea came by her love for food organically. Her dad was in the wholesale food industry, and she remembers going to work with him. Now 81 years old, he pitches in when he’s not at Lions Club meetings. “He knows how to prep,” she says.
She’s always been interested in cooking, but turning her passion into a career took time. Eventually, she ended up at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Sacramento (it closed in 2015) and became a classically trained chef.
While working as a head cook at a residential care facility, she created a plant-based menu to address health issues like diabetes and dementia. She was disheartened when she found out the management was interested only in sugar-free desserts and dressings. For a time, she owned a catering business, and she also worked with a doctor to treat pain patients with a plant-based diet. She blogged about food and she taught cooking classes.
The couple became vegans about 10 years ago. She was having digestive issues and had osteoarthritis. Pain medications made her feel worse. “The light bulb went on,” she says, when she realized that a plant-based diet was the way to go. Her health has improved; Kevin had cholesterol and blood pressure issues, and his health improved as well. “I don’t tell anybody what they should do,” she says, but she believes that vegan food should taste good and that anyone can enjoy it.
Despite an impressive list of culinary accomplishments, something was missing. She found it on a trip to Europe when she and Kevin were celebrating their 30th anniversary. In Vienna, they discovered a gelato shop called Veganista and fell in love, going back a few times to sample the product. When they got home, she started working on recipes. Kevin became her designated taster. Pop-up events at Identity Coffees and Burly Beverages helped her to refine her recipes and perfect the gelato. For six months, they gave away a lot of samples.“There’s no school [you can go to] to learn how to make vegan gelato from scratch,” Andrea says.
She developed her own recipe for making the cashew-milk base. It has a neutral taste and creamy consistency. Andrea buys local fruit whenever possible, often from farmers markets. She uses fair-trade vanilla beans and vanilla extract, and she pays top dollar for premium ingredients. Customers can also expect to pay more for Conscious Creamery’s gelato. Some people are not going to care about the cost, Andrea says, and those are their customers. “It’s a treat and it should be a treat,” she says.
What does she envision for the future of the company? Short term, they need to hire more employees. Long term, they hope to open a retail storefront. And she’d like to make more custom flavors, like port-roasted fig. For now, she’s doing what she loves. “We’re thankful that people have been so wonderful to us,” she says.
Angela Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org