Ciao! Papalani Gelato In Po‘ipu

“We can never get enough local fruit for the amount of product we make,” says Marck Shipley. “But this year we’ve been really fortunate to have established a relationship with a couple of farmers. We just got 150 pounds of lilikoi, and we’re getting another 70, so this year we’ll have enough to last through the season.”

Marck and Lauren Shipley make and sell premium gelato, sorbetto and chocolates at Papalani Gelato in Po‘ipu Shopping Village. Everything is hand-made including the marshmallows, caramel, toffee, macadamia nut butter and peanut butter cups that go into the gelato and chocolates.

“Our priority is that it tastes good,” says Marck. “If the ingredients aren’t something we can stand behind, then we make it ourselves.”

With that kind of integrity, it’s no wonder the cold sweet treats are called Papalani, which means heavenly in Hawaiian. If Papalani is pronounced with a charming singsong lilt, it even sounds Italian. Ciao! Papalani Gelato!

Gelato, in Italian, means frozen, and the main difference between ice cream and gelato is air content. When you add an ice cream base to a commercial machine, it gets whipped and incorporates 50 percent air.

“If you put one gallon of base into a commercial ice cream machine,” says Lauren, “you get two gallons of finished product.”

“When we put a gallon in, we get just over a gallon out,” adds Marck, referring to their gelato machine that barely incorporates any air. “It’s a much healthier product. Ice cream has so much air in it they have to put in added fat because when air freezes it turns to ice. So the more air you have, the more fat you have to add to keep ice crystals from forming.”

On any given day, there are 33 flavors to choose from. Salt Pond gelato is made with Hawaiian sea salt, but was inspired by some Hanapepe salt the Shipleys received as a gift. Silky smooth, thick and creamy, a spoonful sends you into a swoon. It’s a butterscotch lover’s dream. A bold caramel-buttery flavor is enhanced by a little salt, and this is my top choice of today’s selections. Honolulu Magazine may disagree with me. Last year it called Papalani Gelato’s chocolate gelato one of the best in the state. It is rich and chocolaty, and I could absolutely curl up to a pint of it.

Another popular flavor is the green tea gelato, which is made from matcha. The ground green tea leaves are so fine, there’s no grittiness to the gelato. It’s sweetened just a little, and tastes like a cool cup of perfectly brewed green tea.

“A lot of people use premade mixes as a base for their ice cream,” says Marck. “I call it Betty Crocker ice cream. We make our base from scratch, and use 30 percent fruit.”

Lauren hand-processed all that lilikoi and folded it into a creamy sorbetto that’s pure passion fruit with a touch of sweet. It’s bright and tangy, and one spoonful makes my mouth water uncontrollably.

“The hardest sell we have in the store is to get people to try our sorbettos,” says Merck. “They say, ‘Oh. It doesn’t have any dairy in it?’ What they don’t understand is that our sorbettos are creamy because we make them in our gelato machine, and it has a very high percentage of fruit.”

The sorbettos are indeed rich, creamy, thick and decadent. Flavors such as lychee, lemon, pineapple, blood orange and mango make frequent appearances.

Papalani Gelato can be found in local restaurants as well. The Shipleys custom blend flavors for Merriman’s and Tortilla Republic in Po‘ipu, Kaua‘i Pasta in Lihu‘e, and Oasis on the Beach in Kapa‘a.

If you want to bring some home, stop by Papaya’s Natural Foods and Cafe and Hoku Natural Foods in Kapa‘a, Harvest Market in Hanalei, and Living Foods Market in Po‘ipu.

“There’s certain flavors that people on the island love,” Marck says. “So when we make them, I’ll put it on Twitter and Facebook.” Those flavors include pineapple-li hing mui; haupia (which is made in house and folded into the gelato base); chocolate-ginger; and a perennial favorite is Kaua‘i-made kulolu folded into a gelato base.

The Shipleys are experts when it comes to making heavenly desserts. In Canada, the couple built a successful gelato company. They bought containers of raw milk from a local farmer, pasteurized it themselves, and made gelato that was so delicious, they were the first to sell organic gelato at Whole Foods Market there. In 2008, the couple sold the company and moved back to Kaua‘i, where Lauren lived in the ’70s.

“The economy was really bad,” says Marck of the 2008 recession, “and we wouldn’t have made it through without our local customers. We’re really grateful for that. That’s why we offer a 15 percent kama‘aina discount all the time.”

Papalani Gelato Po‘ipu Shopping Village 742-2663 Open daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.