After years of sampling scoops of the Italian ice cream called gelato at every gelateria from Miami to Rome, I found myself in gelato heaven in the seaside town of Rimini, Italy.
I had been invited to be a media judge at last fall’s grand finale Gelato World Tour, an ice cream extravaganza that also serves as a meeting of the minds for gelato’s greats. Two winners from across the globe are chosen to compete in Rimini for the coveted World’s Best Gelato title.
One of the sponsors of the tour is at Carpigiani Gelato University, a school for aspiring ice-cream makers with 13 campuses on five continents. The university attracts thousands of would-be gelatieri, drawn by the allure of running a gelato business that benefits financially from serving a product that people love to eat.
The binding factor between all of these artisanal gelaterias is that they share the same philosophy, which includes not using additives, using more milk than cream, and sourcing only the best ingredients. Many gelaterias follow the seasons, putting out just a few varieties at a time and concentrating on local specialties like mandarin orange, mangoes, hazelnut, pistachio and almond, flavors so well-crafted it’s like eating the fruits or nuts out of hand.
Of course there is the usual vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but many creative gelato chefs are introducing highly unusual flavors like parmesan cheese, nachos, olive oil and seaweed.
To find out the difference between gelato and ice cream, I asked Stefano Versace, owner of Gelateria Versace in Miami’s International Mall, who as awarded second place in the U.S. competition and was the people’s-choice winner in Rimini for his Sicilian Aromas gelato (a delicious combination of fresh ricotta, almonds, pistachios and citrus zest).
Stefano explained that gelato is made with a greater proportion of whole milk to cream, so it contains more like 5 to 7 percent fat rather than ice cream’s typical 18 to 26 percent. However, less fat does not mean less taste.
Gelato has a much higher density than ice cream because no air is added, as it is with ice cream. The result is a richer, creamier taste. Since gelato doesn’t require a lot of air, a home ice cream maker will work just fine.
I think it’s best served right out of the ice cream maker since it tends to become very hard when frozen. If you do place it in the freezer, make sure you take it out in plenty of time to warm up a bit before serving. You won’t be able to have just one scoop.
Caffè Latte Gelato
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup coffee beans, freshly ground to a very fine powder
2/3 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
Whipped cream and chocolate-covered coffee beans for garnish
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and ground coffee. Bring to a low simmer over very low heat and cook for 20 minutes. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes, or refrigerate overnight. Strain the milk through a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Set aside and cover to keep hot.
In a blender or food processor, blend the sugar and egg yolks together until very thick and smooth. With the machine running, gradually add the hot milk. Transfer the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 6 to 8 minutes, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon. Remove the pan from heat and set it in a bowl of ice water. Stir for 2 minutes to cool the mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.
In a deep bowl, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the custard mixture. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve garnished with whipped cream and chocolate-covered coffee beans. Makes 1 1/2 quarts; serves 6.
Per serving: 334 calories (56 percent from fat), 21.2 g fat (12.1 g saturated, 6.6 g monounsaturated), 216 mg cholesterol, 6.1 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 58 mg sodium.
Source: Adapted from “Gelato! Italian Ice Creams, Sorbetti & Granite” (Ten Speed, $14.95).