While we are on the topic of Sicily, I thought I'd bring up gelato. Sicily was the first place I'd experienced or even heard of gelato. Amaretto - I remember it well. In the small shopping building within walking distance of my home is a coffee shop that sells gelato. I am not a huge fan of ice cream (forgive me). By that I mean it doesn't call my name; I can take it or leave; it's not the food I can't live without. So frankly I have not dragged myself in to have a bowl, a scoop, or even a taste of gelato.
In Italy, whether you’re visiting a cosmopolitan city such as Milan, a fishing village with no internet in Calabria, or somewhere in between, you rarely need to venture far off the main piazza to find gelato. Gelato is denser than French (which contains eggs) and American ice creams. It wasn’t always like that. Once, only the wealthy who could afford ice storage – or servants to dash up the mountains to fetch ice on demand – enjoyed the ancestors of this frozen treat. According to Bologna’s Carpigiani Gelato Museum, Cosimo Ruggieri, astrologer and alchemist to the French queen Catherine de’ Medici, invented fior di latte gelato sometime in the mid-1500s. Its dairy-free cousin, sorbetto, whose origins lie in Sicily, dates to the first century AD, when Moorish conquerors brought their love for ice doused in syrups called shrb, from which the words “sorbet” and “sherbet” are derived. Who knew?
Gelati and sorbetti became widely available in the 1700s, and up until about 50 years ago, according to Katie Parla, the author of Food of the Italian South and The Joy of Pizza, they were made from all-natural flavorings and ingredients you could pronounce. Mass production changed that. “Most shops use industrial bases because they’re way cheaper than sourcing fresh fruit or using high-quality chocolate,” she says. “But there has been a shift in the last ten years and a greater demand for natural gelato.”
Rome, is the gelato-consumption capital of Italy. You’ll find scoops that include organic Madagascar vanilla gelato and brittle-flecked almond sorbetto sweetened with acacia honey; ricotta-and-fig; coconut-sugared vegan chocolate; port-poached pear. Down in Puglia, outside Ostuni: wild fennel pollen, sheep’s yogurt, and honey; vanilla-scented peach, served with pickled nectarines and hazelnut crumble; and vivid satsuma with saffron and ginger, drenched in a chocolate and olive oil ganache. Gelato may be the best way to end a meal – sometimes it’s better to end lightly than with heavier sweet desserts. I'm finding these flavors tempting.
In Sicily, the fertile volcanic soil that makes it the fruit bowl of Italy, growing exquisite ingredients year-round, from bright pink prickly pears and fat lemons to yellow raspberries, pistachios, and neon-orange tangerines – mmmm...that might be enough to tempt me to taste.
So when we plan your Italian vacation, let's include a gelato tour...yes that's a thing. You'll certainly do at least one food tour, a wine excursion, and/or a cooking class. Gotta have dessert, right?
'til next week.
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