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Julio and Ana at Valsa Gelato (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Published on 1st March 2024

Julio Castro is not a man who acts on a whim. He is studious to the point of obsession and has proven so in various culinary fields.  

Food has been his passion for the best part of 20 years. Brazilian-born Julio had catering jobs in Switzerland and Portugal before moving to London in 2006. There, he worked at Sketch, a three Michelin-star restaurant in Mayfair. After six successful years specialising as a pastry chef there, he left to work for renowned German cake designer Peggy Porschen, who runs several parlours in the capital, including in Belgravia and Chelsea. Next, Julio worked for Poilane, an artisan French bakery specialising in sourdoughs. However, by this stage of his career, he was dreaming of opening his own business. 

Julio said: ‘I was tired with the shifts involved in baking and pastry cuisine. If you start working at 5am in London, it means you have to wake at 3am, so I had no time for a social life. I had the idea of opening my own ice cream parlour, as they are places of happiness. If you want to cry, you go to a pub, but a gelato is a place of joy and laughter, so I set my heart into opening one of my own. But it is not easy. You need training, knowledge and practice to perfect gelato and as with all things in life, the more you do, the better you become. So, I spent five years perfecting the art of gelato with some of the finest makers in the world.’

Valsa Gelato in Bishopric (©AAH/Alan Wright)


Julio tried a direct approach, offering to work for free at renowned parlours in London while he developed his own gelato-making skills. He worked for Snowflake Gelato, which makes luxury gelato using organic Jersey milk and has a range of branches at outlets including Selfridges. He gained further experience at Badiani 1932, an iconic gelato company in London famous for making its own flavour, Buontalenti. By learning different methods, Julio developed ideas for how to make his own brand of gelato.

He said: ‘The more you study, the more you come to understand that there is science involved in making gelato. Gelato is a food colloid and if you study it in microscopic detail, you see air bubbles, fat globules and ice crystals. It needs to be churned at a much slower rate than American-style ice cream, with less air added, otherwise it becomes too hard and loses its smooth texture. As a pastry chef, I adopt traditional Italian methods that I have learned, such as separating the clarified butter during the melting process, before it burns. It takes time, but it all helps to give the gelato a richer, denser flavour.’ 

‘Many ice creams are made with additional flavourings and colourants, or milk powder rather than fresh milk, so they lack the smoothness and flavour of gelato. That is why it’s important to consider every ingredient. Traditionally gelato uses just milk, cream and sugars, although balancing them all correctly is a fine science. Some Italians would like to see the term ‘gelato’ applied solely to those using traditional methods, in the same way that Champagne only relates to the French region and everything else is sparkling wine.’ 

Hot chocolate, made with Belgian chocs (©AAH/AW)


The next step was to find a location for the shop. With London being beyond their budget, Julio and Ana looked at many towns and cities including Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bournemouth. They came close to taking on a unit in Chichester before a deal fell through. A friend suggested Horsham and in Bishopric they found an ideal unit, with three-phase electricity to power the machinery. They hope the area will soon be boosted by new arrivals and fresh investment to increase footfall.It was the final piece of the puzzle. They called the business Valsa Gelato, an Italian word for ‘worth’ or ‘value’ to signify the quality of the produce. 

The couple have since spent three months refurbishing and installing equipment. Central to their vision was the addition of a window where customers can watch Julio making gelato on the other side of the screen. While Julio is busy behind the scenes, wife Ana Dantas greets customers.

Ana said: ‘People are surprised to discover that we make our own ice cream on site and we love giving out samples so that they can taste the difference. Julio is very particular about every ingredient. Any good Italian ice cream parlour should serve excellent pistachio gelato, and we import high-quality pistachio paste direct from Sicily, without any of the additional sugars that are packed into cheaper alternatives. Our hazelnut comes from Piemonte, which is famous for them, and our vanilla gelato is made with Madagascan vanilla pods, rather than extract. They are all beautiful, although the kids love the chocolate, candy floss and Nutella flavours, while adults like caramelised fig and Amarena (vanilla with sour cherry) as well as Affogato, an Italian favourite that combines an espresso with a scoop of gelato!’ 


Valsa Gelato also offers dairy-free sorbets and a hot chocolate made with three different kinds of Belgian chocolate. This too is a result of Julio’s meticulous research, using chocolate of varying cocoa mass to ensure a smooth texture. Having worked at leading restaurants, it’s no surprise that Julio has been asked about supplying gelato to trade customers. However, that’s not something he is ready to do yet...  

He said: ‘I control every part of the process, from the raw ingredients to production to scooping the gelato into a cone for customers. If I make gelato for trade, I don’t know if they’re going to have the same care. So, for now, my focus is very much on customers in the shop. We need to let people know about our produce, as well as our service, which is important too. If you have the best product but your service is bad, people will not come back. For me, it’s very rewarding seeing people try our gelato and realising how good it is. That’s what makes it all worthwhile!’

 Further information: Visit Valsa Gelato at 6 Bishopric, Horsham. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11am - 6pm.