‘Gelato Queen’ whips up original creations alongside old standbys

Perhaps somewhere between perusing Lee Snack Bar or your daily visit to Late Night, you’ve seen the cornucopia of gelato flavors that Paresky has to offer. You have wondered where exactly that delightful Snickers flavor comes from or, as a dutiful and curious liberal arts student, you have weighed the ricotta-and-fig-flavored gelato.

Tricia Koch, the current gelato master of dining services, is the woman responsible for all this deliciousness. “Actually, the guys downstairs call me the ‘Gelato Queen,’” she said.

The Gelato Queen became the official gelato maker over the summer when she underwent rigorous training to learn the art of gelato making. In addition to the purchase of a new state-of-the-art Italian gelato machine, Director of Dining Services Bob Volpi brought in an expert from Italy to assist in the training.

Koch’s introduction into the gelato job came by chance (or destiny, depending on how you look at it). “I was downstairs and the lady before me was making gelato,” she said. “One day I asked her if she needed help. I went down there and they trained me.”

Tricia Koch uses the resources available on a daily basis to create new concoctions of gelato.

The job requires artistry as well as skill. The invention of new flavors often arises from the foods that are available downstairs when Tricia makes the gelato fresh every morning from 8 to 11 a.m.  This accounted for the cookies and cream flavor last week, as well as the recent peanut butter and jelly flavor. “It’s fun making it, “ Koch said. “You can make anything you want. I’m trying to think about what we have!”

The exotic ricotta and fig flavor, Koch told me, was not her own invention, but that of her trainer from Italy: “When they showed me, I was like ‘Really? You can do this?’” Since then Koch has been mastering the art of gelato flavor invention. Her favorite so far is the new Almond Joy flavor that has been available this week.

I was so intrigued that I decided to have a look at the gelato making in the downstairs of Whitman’s. “I am more than happy to have students join me,” Koch said. “I would love to hear the students’ ideas!”

When I finally got to check it out the next morning, I saw not only the Gelato Queen in action, but also an array of endless possibilities. In just a few hours, Tricia can make as many as 15 trays of flavors. “The machine is [Volpi’s] baby,” Koch said. Not many colleges can boast their own gelato production.

An entire room in the basement of Paresky is dedicated to the College’s pasta and gelato-making machines. As I went in there, Koch was making a fresh tray of yogurt gelato. After putting all of the ingredients in a giant blender, Koch pours the mixture into the gelato machine, which freezes the liquid and pours it out ready to serve. Extra flavoring is added during the freezing process.

An extra benefit of the College producing its own gelato in-house is that the milk Koch uses is local hormone-free dairy that comes from High Lawn Farm in Lee, Mass. “[Koch] is making a high quality product at a much lower cost than those already made to serve,” Volpi said.

Pretty much anything that can be blended with yogurt can be made into a flavor – though that does not mean everything would necessarily make a good flavor. For example, Koch’s personal favorite cuisine, Mexican food, doesn’t make the cut. We sat for a while trying to come up with a Mexican flavor, but to no avail.

In her day, Koch has seen it all, and she gave me a quick answer when I asked about the worst flavor she had ever seen, “Pepperoncini. Some workers made it during the summer. It was nasty,” she said.

Koch is also the woman in charge for all the catering services’ gelato making. Champagne gelato, for example, is a favorite on the catering menu. “One time I made Guinness flavor!” she said. One has to wonder if they would have to start carding us should these flavors start showing up at Late Night.

In addition to festive catering flavors, Koch plans to make numerous flavors in celebration of holidays and seasons. Koch relayed plans for apple cider and pumpkin gelatos for the fall season, and peppermint and eggnog stylings for when the winter comes around.  In previous years, Dining Services has even offered Red Bull gelato for those of us who can’t decide between a sweet dessert and an energy drink for that late night pick-me-up.

Whatever the occasion, I’m sure Koch’s delicious creations will continue to surprise and delight in the future.