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Try This: Grass-Fed Milk from Mindanao Shines in This Special Gelato Flavor by Manila Creamery

June 18, 2017

There was no shortage of attention-grabbers at the nose-to-tail regional lunch—including dinuguan-themed taho and betamax paired with chocolate, among other things—at the 2017 Madrid Fusion Manila expo held last May. But one booth stood out for surprising reasons, commanding long lines from many a diner seeking a sweet, cool refuge from the burlier mains. Their offering? A course which featured a quenelle of gelato, itself pristine white, plated with a dehydrated milk foam, an orange-olive sponge cake, calamansi gel, salted grape nuts, cucumber-dusted meringue, and orange zest—all together a lighter, radically virtuous antithesis to flesh and blood that dominated the rest of the day’s spread. More curious was the name the said creation went by: “Mindanao Milk”. Mindanao? Milk? Who knew?

“It’s like our Hokkaido milk, but Filipino,” explains Jason Go, one-half of the Manila Creamery, the roughly two-year-old, proudly local gelato venture behind the said creation. The milk—grass-fed, “beyond organic” milk from the Mindanao region—comes via his friends over at Farm to Table, who take extensive measures to make sure their cows are treated well (because “a happy cow produces better and more milk!,” shares Farm to Table’s Hank Palenzuela). “I tasted [it],” shares Go, “and I was like, this is one of the best milk that I’ve tasted in the Philippines!” Impressed by its especially “milky” taste with “its own personality”, he took the opportunity to put it on the spotlight upon being invited as one of the esteemed presenters during the regional lunch. “I’ve been trying to push for it since we opened, and then Madrid [Fusion] came so that was a big opportunity. We could show [that] we have good milk in the Southern region . . . we could set ourselves apart.”

And show it, they did. It was their first time to do elaborate plates with that many components and that fancy a style of plating—and he admits it got them out of their comfort zone, given that the way they serve gelato in the shop is generally a straightforward, scoop-and-serve affair which at most would include little more than a final drizzle or sprinkling of whichever finishing sauce or toppings. But it was a worthy risk. Not only was it received favorably, spawning long lines (with numerous guests coming back for second helpings)—it also introduced the world to the great dairy we’ve got on our shores.

“[It was] super risky but [we] just took the risk. I mean that’s what we’ve been doing . . . for the last two years we’ve just been taking a lotta risks and [hoping] for the best. So far it hasn’t bitten us yet, so just keep doing it.”

It’s been around a month since the expo took place—and while the duo no longer offers the flavor in its Madrid Fusion incarnation, you can still drop by their shops today for its relatively streamlined (but no less tasty) cousin.

MILK AND HONEY

Drop by their UP Town Center shop for a taste of their Milk & Honey gelato, made with a base of Mindanao milk, at Php 120/cup.

Inspired by the signature dessert at New York’s Nomad, the Milk and Honey gelato features the same Mindanao Milk gelato—with its smooth but light-on-the-tongue consistency and potent but ethereal milkiness—as its base. With little other flavorings to take away from the flavor of the dairy (e.g., no vanilla!), the natural flavor of the milk shines—but adding just enough depth is a swirled-in oat crumble that contributes a nutty, butterscotch-y note, plus some nubbiness and chew, that contrasts great against the gelato’s creaminess without stealing the spotlight. Finishing off a cup is a generous pool of Batangas honey, its amber hue glistening atop its pristine white background, which lends not only its floral complexity, but also a stickiness that makes every spoonful slightly chewy and oh-so-addictive. While the flavors in each not-to-sweet serving errs toward mellow, the synergistic way all parts combine is anything but mundane. This is simplicity, done right, properly showcasing what it’s meant to showcase: great milk that we can call our very own.

“I wanted to create something [that would allow] everyone to try [it] . . . ‘cause one of our goals is to get those gastronomy stuff . . . that’s not [usually] accessible [to others], [but] put it in a cup. . . in an accessible café.”

It’s hard to believe Go had struggled with making frozen treats in the past (“I could barely make ice cream [back then] . . . I always ended up overcooking the eggs!”). Manila Creamery has evolved in many ways from the day he and co-owner Paolo Reyes, both of whom had studied in renowned gelato schools in Italy (the Carpigiani Gelato University and Academia Bigatton, respectively) launched the brand at the EDSA Beverage Design Studio in 2015. While their early days had them selling a more limited line only through weekend pop-ups, you’ll now find them offering their proudly local gelato—plus spinoffs that include milkshakes—all days of the week: at their roughly 25-square foot nook at the UP Town Center; at the newly opened Industrie Food Loft in Pasig (where you’ll also find the Mindanao Milk in soft-serve form); and at a soon-to-open branch in Alabang.

Having built a steady following from their days mostly only ever doing weekend pop-ups, fans can now enjoy Manila Creamery’s signature treats any day of the week.

“One day we dream of maybe opening a café [where] we’d have regular tastings, maybe like once every quarter but dessert lang,” Go shares. “Like [a] three-course [flight] maybe, not too expensive.” At the moment the two are picking up from this “elevated” direction, gradually introducing more complex elements and manners of execution in hopes of being able to offer the public a taste of the previously unapproachable. “Now we wanna apply elevating [to the components], from the toppings [and eventually, to] everything. Slowly. Maybe to a point where it’s borderline-molecular gastronomy that you can actually get . . . for a cheap price, in a cup.” But the overarching vision remains constant: to provide quality gelato using the best ingredients, which in many cases means going local (e.g., Malagos chocolate from Davao and coffee from Benguet) and going the extra step where possible by making whichever components they can—e.g. the latik for the best-selling Mangga’t Suman gelato—from scratch.

“At the end of the day, when we decided to name ourselves Manila Creamery, we decided to be ourselves. We’re not trying to be an Italian brand [or] to be anything else, [and] from that moment the direction was much clearer, ‘cause when you say Manila Creamery then obviously we’re just being ourselves. We’re from Manila, we’re Filipino . . . so I from that point we [found this was] the right direction for us . . .  What we learn we . . . incorporate, we apply and then we learn some more. It’s just a matter of elevating [and] improving.”

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.
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