In Italy, eating ice cream is a culture, a tradition. On Sundays, when we go for a passeggiata (a leisurely evening or weekend stroll), take the children for a snack or go out with friends, a pit-stop at the Gelateria is routine, as well as an opportunity to meet up socially. In Malta, ice cream is not yet as regular a part of our social – or daily – routine. But that could be about to change thanks to FIGO gelateria artigianale caffetteria italiana in St Julian’s.
Figo is the brainchild of siblings who came casually on holiday to Malta. Paola Goldoni, one of the owners, was born in San Felice sul Panaro, near Modena. After opening a wine shop with her sister near Bolzano, she decided last year to study to become a “gelataia”, or professional artisan ice-cream maker. It proved an intense course with a very limited number of participants. It drilled deep into the secrets of making the perfect ice cream. Paola then did an internship at Carpigiani, the Gelato machine manufacturer that runs a ‘gelato university’, to perfect the craft further: “To see my first ice cream coming out of the machine was a beautiful sight”, Paola recalls, chatting to us in her own ice cream establishment that she opened in August this year.
Figo is in Paceville in an ideal location; a small side street that while near the hub of life is quiet enough to allow the ice cream cafe’ to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere. Paola uses 100% Italian ingredients in her ice cream flavours which she sources meticulously; the pistachios are, for example, from Bronte, a specific region of Sicily renowned for its quality pistachios. All Figo’s products are without preservatives, which means that you won’t find any artificial neon colours glowing among its ice cream flavours. Paola also makes an ice cream for those who are lactose intolerant with several options in summer and always one available in winter too.
Figo keeps its prices competitive despite importing those valued and flavoursome ingredients without the advantages of any economy of scale. Her philosophy is that a high-quality ice cream should be affordable at 2 Euros. “This is ice cream within the realms of being eaten whenever you want – ‘agli Italiani’ – and not as an occasional special treat,” she says. Can Malta change the habit of an ice-cream-eating lifetime? We interviewed Paola to find out more about her ice creams and her mission.
2. Why Malta for your gelato venture, and why now?
Malta is a dynamic island with substantial growth prospects. In 2018, Valletta will be a European Capital of Culture and that has been attracting investment – and changing perceptions – which can benefit the economy. I do not consider Malta as a place to take refuge in to escape the negative economic cycles in much of Europe. It is rather an opportunity to get involved in realising ideas and projects with greater flexibility than perhaps is possible elsewhere right now. That said, one still has to work hard to open a new business here and see it thrive. It is not an ‘Island of easy money’. There is immense competition and both Maltese and tourists are attentive to quality vs price.
3. What is it about the Italian art of ‘gelat’ that appeals to us?
In a nutshell, gelato is easy to eat and inexpensive compared to other sweet products. And it appeals to nearly everyone.
4. Figo has quite some competition among gelaterie here in Malta and most café-bars offer ices by scoop. What do you feel sets Figo apart from the crowd?
The feedback that we receive from our guests is constantly positive. Our artisan gelato does not compromise on the use of genuine ingredients. I consider strong competition vital to our keeping ahead of the game and in ensuring we retain a quality product. But you cannot compare an industrial-made ice cream with an artisan one. We are talking about completely different things. We prepare the gelato in our ‘lab’ with natural ingredients and without any preservatives.
5.You don’t just offer ice creams though; give us a run-through your menu today and tell us about some of the highlights among your non-gelato items.
I can do more. I can provide you with a menu! As a small experiment, we ran a full meal based on our gelati and ingredients one Saturday evening recently for a small group of Figo customers and fans. It proved very successful and we’ll no doubt run it again. The event saw us merge sweet and salty notes with different textures (crispy, mousses, creams and so on) in the various courses from appetizer to a pasta course and on to the sweets for real.
6. What are your top-selling flavours? And what are your personal favourites and why?
Generally cream-based types are the most preferred by our customers, especially now as we move into the colder season. Our top ten are: Tiramisu, Hazelnut, Banoffee, Helwa tat-Tork, Snickers, Cosimo Chocolate, Pistachio, Mascarpone figs and dates, and Yogurt and Figo Biscuit. I consider myself almost a chocolate addict.
7. Where do you get your flavour inspiration from? We note that you have some flavours inspired by Maltese sweets – ie. Helwa tat-Tork flavour, for instance.
Throughout my experience in the restaurant business in Italy, and during the travels as a “gastronaut (gastronomic traveler)” in the various continents, and in the research of different foods, I developed the idea of exploring an activity able to express the pleasure of taste. Italy, with its breadth and depth of regional cuisines each drawing on myriad indigenous ingredients, is a great reservoir from which to draw inspiration for our products at Figo. Also, we live in a sort of “melting époque” in which the communication networks, whether physical transport or through the internet, have accelerated the process of cultural integration. As we’re Malta-based, we are influenced of course by the foods we find outside our door. Helwa tat-Tork and Banoffee are two good examples of this melting pot of cuisines influencing our gelato flavours.
Seasons can affect the flavours that we offer. During summertime, sorbets are on our menu more. During the cold season, as I mentioned, people tend to prefer cream-based gelato. But we also offer cakes and crêpes and mornings, and mornings we serve fresh-baked brioches along with all the variety of Italian-style caffe’ (espresso) and cappuccino; after all, you know the Italians are famed for being sticklers about their coffee types at the various times of the day.
9. Any hints about new seasonal flavours?
We’ll be offering a larger cake range and maybe some new arrivals drawing on my French experiences; perhaps a cake filled with ice cream and with hot zabaglione poured over!
10. What should we have asked you but didn’t?
Well, as you know, online communication is vital these days to the successful development of an enterprise. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with Figo’s success on the web, our Facebook and Trip Advisor pages where we’ve had immensely positive feedback. We’re keen for people to come and try Figo out, and to give us more feedback on our range and service; there’s always room for improvement.
In conclusion, I’d like to stress that the secret of Figo is combining our Italian gelato heritage and traditions with innovation. We are constantly experimenting with new flavors (such as gorgonzola ice cream), to come up with new tastes and experiences for our customers; with taste, of course, as the priority.
As to the future? Well, maybe we’ll open a ‘taste boutique’ (a.k.a Figo branch) in Valletta!”
Where to Find FIGO:
Tue – Fri: 8:00 am – 8:00 pm
Sat: 8:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sun: 9:00 am – 9:00 am