the second week of the program, the students wanted to know definitively
which gelateria in town was the best. We devised a tasting protocol
that spelled out the rules: We would use two base flavors for
comparison: fior di latte ("flower of milk," or sometimes
fior di panna, "flower of cream," a common Italian flavor
that's like vanilla without the vanilla) to ascertain the quality
of the gelati, and fragola (strawberry) to make our sorbetti pronouncements.
In addition, we would order whatever other flavors we wanted.
We would be judging color (looking for naturalness), texture (hoping
for creaminess and smoothness), body (some wanted to call it richness),
and overall appeal. We compiled a list of what were supposed to
be the best gelaterie in Florence, mapped out our path and set
Via dei Neri, 20-22r
the style of gelateria that offers more flavors than you can probably
count and certainly more than you can pronounce, this was to my
taste the best. I counted 50 flavors in the display case and then
gave up because I couldn't squeeze by a group of Canadians wearing
flags to celebrate Canada Day. The base flavor, fior di latte,
was fine, with a faint milky flavor. The fragola was exceptionally
fresh tasting and creamy. Those who think white chocolate has
no flavor, should try the white chocolate gelato here. It has
the distinct flavor of white chocolate, and if you are a fan,
you will love it. Other stand-outs included yogurt, croccante
(with peanut brittle), passion fruit, and gelato verigato, flavored
with coffee, zabaglione and meringue. A smart sign on the wall
reads il fumo dammeggia il gelato, "Cigarette smoke ruins
I took it to mean they are serious about what they are doing.
Borgo degli Albizi, 11r
We all concurred. Signore Vestri is a master. And yet the place
is not listed in any guides or articles about gelato that I could
find. (In fact, I couldn't find the address in my notes when I
got back to the US and I had to ask the owner of the pensione
where I stayed to walk down the street and find the details. The
pensione owner didn't even know the shop, and her place was only
a block away!) Vestri is near the central post office and it has
been selling handmade Belgian chocolates and eight to ten rotating
flavors of gelato since 1960. Each gelato was superb, with the
chocolate-based ones bordering on sublime. Chocolate mint, chocolate
cinnamon, chocolate orange, and chocolate chili (which has a pleasant
kick in the aftertaste), were like eating the frozen center of
fine truffles. Pistachio was described by one of the tasters simply
as "Wow!" The fior di latte was the best of the seven
or so we tried, and the fragola was also excellent. One person
on the tour thought the gelato was so good, maybe it didn't count.
"It's so perfect, it seems French," was her observation.
Via Ricasoli 60r
is the only Sicilian style gelateria in town and you can tell
the difference in the flavor selection, which includes fig, apricot,
and kiwi, and the texture, which is slightly grainier. This style
of gelato and sorbetto also tastes as though it has less sugar,
which likely accounts for the texture. The flavors can only be
described as "true"; the fig tasted like eating a fig.
The fior di panna got low marks from the group, largely because
of the icy texture. But pistachio and vanilla were a hit. Carabé
also sells some other Sicilian specialties that shouldn't be missed,
such as brioche filled with ice cream, canoli, and granita, slushy
sorbet-like drinks you eat with a straw and a spoon. The combination
of coffee, almond and whipped cream made a granita you'll never
Via dei Tavolini, 19r
Closed Tuesday in Winter
name means "why not" and we said, "why not, indeed."
This is a gelateria with a medium-sized selection and some excellent
flavors. The base two were comme il faut, but you simply must
try the pistachio which has the uncanny, unique (and delicious)
flavor of eating a handful of salted pistachios-very different
from the superb pistachio at Vestri, but nevertheless yummy. It
was excellent. Other impressive offerings were peach, mascarpone,
and yogurt. Several of the students had been to this gelateria
before and they raved about the sesame honey gelato; alas, it
wasn't available on the day of our crawl.
Via Isola delle Stinche, 7r
conducted our grand gelato tour on a Monday afternoon, and we
were surprised to arrive at Vivoli to find the shop is closed
Mondays. I went back with my sister the following day to have
the famous riso (rice) gelato. It had the distinct flavor of rice,
with pleasantly chewy grains of rice in the mix. It was incredibly
sweet. In fact, all of the flavors we tried were too sweet to
our taste. But that didn't seem to stop the throngs of people
in line for what is arguably the most famous, if not the best
gelato in town.
only dud of our crawl was Festival del Gelato, a 50-plus variety
place where the colors and flavors are as fake as the diamonds
on the Home Shopping Channel. Although one student swore, based
on her previous samplings, some of their flavors were admirable;
it wasn't worth trying the others to find them.
came to several realizations about gelato and gelaterias at the
end of our gelato crawl. The first is that you are almost always
guaranteed a superior gelato experience at a place that keeps
their ice cream in the traditional circular stainless steel tubs
built into the counter and covered with round stainless steel
lids, totally out of view. The more common alternative is rectangular,
hotel-pan like containers arranged in large, display glass freezers.
These can be good, but experience shows that the round, out-of-sight
containers hold better ice cream. This was true at Vestri, our
favorite in Florence. It is how the gelato is held at Il Gelato
di San Crispino (Via Acaia, 56, 06-7045-0412 and Via dei Panettieri,
42, 06-579-3924 ROME), my favorite in Rome. It is how the ice
cream is held at Gatsby's, my favorite when I lived in Torino.
It wasn't until Florence, where I found Vestri, that I noticed
the pattern. I suppose this freezer system is more expensive.
It is less marketing and more quality driven, since you don't
get to see the pretty colors and all the flavors. But, it clearly
means the place takes what they do seriously.
three is the maximum number of gelato flavors you should put in
any one cup at a time. This limits the risk of getting one flavor
that doesn't blend well with all the others. Even though I love
how in Italy (unlike in New York) a gelato place will stuff 10
flavors into a small cup if that's what you want, that isn't what
you want. Plus, by only having three flavors, if there's one you
really don't like, it is easier to extricate it from the mix,
as my sister had to do with the licorice flavor in one of her
many cups at San Crispino in Rome. The licorice was just too strong
and it overpowered the other flavors, so she cut it out of the
cup and enjoyed the two that remained.
I now have proven empirically that it is true that there is always
room for gelato. Here we were, after lunch, eating and/or tasting
some 30 gelati on a crawl that took no more than two hours. And
by the end just about everyone felt like he or she could have
tried a couple more. Unfortunately, we had to break for dinner.
is a long way to go for ice cream. If you find yourself hankering
for gelato in New York City, here are the best places to go:
Laboratorio del Gelato
95 Orchard St.
same person who started Ciao Bella 19 years ago founded this brand
new shop on the Lower East Side. Of the more than 50 flavors,
about 12 are available at any given time. Every one I've tried
is delicious. But don't think you can go late, i.e., after dinner
on Clinton St. They close at 6 p.m.
Ice Cream Artisans
272 Bleecker St.
by Argentinian brothers, this gelaterie in the West Village has
the selection, taste, and texture that's closest to an Italian
gelateria. You can't mix a lot of flavors in one cup (by now you
know you don't want to), but they are open late.
227 Sullivan St.
flavor selection is not traditionally Italian, and the gelato
here eats more like ice cream, in part because it is kept colder.
No matter, it is always excellent.
Pâtisserie and Bistro
1032 Lexington Ave.
the front room from the pastry case, you'll find a limited selection
of superb French-style gelato. Caramel is particularly delicious.
Adapted by StarChefs
1/4 cups milk
1/4 cups half and half
vanilla bean, split
large egg yolks
cup granulated sugar
a saucepan combine the milk and the half and half. Scrape the
vanilla bean into this mixture, and add the pod. Over medium heat,
scald to the point just before the milk boils.
heat about an inch of water in a small saucepan to boiling. In
a metal bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar until
pale yellow. Set the bowl over the boiling water and continue
beating until the volume doubles and the egg yolk mixture is warm.
Remove from the heat.
the vanilla bean pod from the scalded milk and beat the hot milk
slowly into the egg yolk mixture. Transfer this mixture back into
the saucepan and set over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly
with a wooden spoon, until the mixture attains the consistency
of a thin custard. It should coat the back of the spoon.
down the custard by setting the pot into a bowl of ice. Refrigerate
the custard for several hours. Process the custard in an ice-cream
machine according to the manufacturers instruction. Right out
of the machine, the ice cream will have the consistency of Italian
gelato. If you freeze it firm, be sure to remove the ice cream
from the freezer several minutes prior to serving.
Gelato: To make coffee gelato, dissolve 2 Tablespoons of your
favorite instant coffee or espresso in the hot milk mixture. You
can always add more if you prefer a more intense coffee flavor.
Follow the remainder of the directions above.
Gelato: Rough chop 3 ounces of semisweet chocolate (or use
semisweet chocolate chips if you have them handy). After you have
scalded the milk mixture, remove it from the heat and whisk in
the chopped chocolate until it dissolves. If you have less of
a sweet-tooth, you may want to reduce the sugar in the recipe
to ¾ cup.