This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES Denmark.
"Suddenly one day, a truck arrived and unloaded a giant pallet," says Jeppe Villadsen. "And there it was: An ice cream machine that cost several hundred thousand kroner."
Villadsen opened Isoteket (which roughly translates to the "Ice Cream Pharmacy") in Copenhagen, back in May 2017, but he already talks about the start of his business as if it launched ten years ago. He's also accomplished much more than he dared to dream about.
Before Isoteket, Villadsen was a freelance journalist all over the world. He wrote about anything and everything—from freedom of speech and human rights to poverty tourism and modeling competitions. His career boasts dramatic highlights: A fiery Belgian hotel owner, for instance, once sent his gunmen after Villadsen in Congo and handcuffed him until he forked over some money. On another occasion, he was mugged by a slew of drug addicts at a deserted railway station in Mombasa. Today, however, we're sitting in a bright, sunny shop with a view of the nomadic café-goers in Bopa Square.
"I once saw someone get beaten to death by a lynch mob in South Africa, because he was suspected of having stolen a cell phone. A car stopped and a group of completely ordinary people jumped out. They took sticks out of the trunk of the car. It all happened very fast—they were clearly ready to get going. When he was lying on the ground and was covered in blood, they proceeded to light him on fire." Villadsen pauses before continuing: "Maybe I miss the adventure from back then, but I don't miss the danger."
The shift from journalism to making ice cream happened kind of suddenly. "A colleague sent me a link to this Facebook group "What's your plan B?". It was created by a guy who had worked as a photographer for 25 years, and was now earning twice as much making brick oven pizza. Prior to that, I'd tasted a fabulous blackberry gelato in Rome and I thought: Why can't you get that in Denmark? It turned out you could in some places, but that's how the seed was planted. I figured I could make ice cream in the summer and write books in the winter."
You may be able to take the man out of journalism, but you can't take journalism out of the man. Villadsen approached the task of making ice cream with his usual thoroughness. "I came across an article in the LA Times about a gelato university. I immediately decided that, in the spring, I'd make Denmark's best ice cream."
Villadsen went on to have four intensive weeks at Gelato University in Anzola Emilia, Bologna, Italy. The school is run by Carpigiani, an Italian company that makes gelato- and ice cream machines. This was where Villadsen learned classic gelato craftsmanship—which involves a fair amount of math when you're calculating the right composition of different types of sugar. But he was more interested in playing with taste than cultivating the science of sugar. His technique remains Italian, but his flavors are distinctively his own.
And it's the flavorsthat have garnered Isoteket much praise. Villadsen's ice cream is often milk-based with something acidic and fresh added on a soundboard of fat. For example, his hazelnut-bergamot ice cream combines the rich, roasted taste of hazelnuts with the acidity and aroma of bergamot for added dimension. The same goes for his coffee-lemongrass ice cream, which has the rounded dark taste of a coffee bean with a hint of fresh hay that introduces more citrus notes.
Today, when Villadsen makes a new ice cream, he usually starts with a pasteurized base liquid made up of 85 percent milk and 15 percent cream, and then adds in his flavors—lemon juice and zest, for instance, or a nut extract, or fruit. "The final product is the result of the freshness, craft, the ice cream machine, and the work of balancing several types of sugar. In a milk ice, for instance, there would be sugar cane, dextrose, glucose, and invert sugar."
When Villadsen entered the ice cream business, he was mostly looking for a safe career that would provide respite from the lackluster conditions of working as a freelance journalist. And he's mostly been successful.
"Now I have more freedom to choose fun things. I don't have to consider poorly-paying job opportunities," he explains. When asked how he feels about selling luxury gelato after having witnessed extreme poverty and crime close up, he adds, "It's a bit of a relief, both personally and financially. I write about all sorts of other things too, but on that front I think I've paid my dues."