Good Italian ice cream is known all over the world. When I used to travel abroad as a young girl, I knew that wherever I happened to be, I could most likely find an Italian restaurant or ice cream shop. And it has always comforted me to know that pretty much anywhere in the world I can find good pizza, good home-made ice cream or decently cooked spaghetti with tomato sauce. What is quite interesting is that nowadays these recipes are not only a "Comfort food" for Italians, but also for persons of other nationalities.
I won't discuss the qualities of these recipes in the rest of the world, because one could write volumes on the subject, but I would like to give some useful advice to those who come to Italy on how to choose good ice cream. We will have the chance to talk about pizza and spaghetti in the next posts, when the summer heat will be less of a hassle.
I could have simply listed the best Italian pastry shops, but I know that by doing so I would have limited the choice to a few select locations and that my reviews would have been mixed and debatable for a number of reasons. Which is why I have preferred to interview someone who is becoming increasingly popular in Milan and who is proving how skill and passion for one's job can lead to the right success.
Vittoria Bortolazzo, a graduate of the Academy of French Patisserie "Le Cordon Bleu" with a career behind her that has brought her to work with some of the most prominent international names in the world of pastry-making, like Ladurée and William Curley, has finally accomplished her dream in 2009 by opening "Gelato Giusto" in Milan. A place where she has succeeded in making "fine patisserie" ice cream, characterized by the genuine qualities of the ingredients, a rigorous adherence to recipe, creativity in combining flavors and passion for the best quality.
Vittoria, how does one recognize good ice cream?
There are plenty of details that tell us about the quality of ice cream from the very start. If for instance you enter an ice cream shop and see ice cream heaps way above the tray, this should alarm you, because it’s the first clear sign that ingredients used aren't 100% natural. Good ice cream without additives simply can't rise up out of the tray like a skyscraper, because it would melt!
And what about colors? Are they still a good hint?
They certainly are, they're the second trait to look for. Lemon shouldn't be yellow, but white; pistachio shouldn't be green and absolutely avoid blue "smurf" ice cream, since it's nowhere to be found in nature and is therefore the fruit of flavorings that are not natural. Colors have to be as they appear in real life, which doesn't necessarily mean they have to all be the same. Take peach for instance: its color can vary from bright pink to light orange, depending on the type of peach, the color of the pulp and its consistency.
What can help us distinguish good ice cream when we enter an ice cream shop?
The ice cream shops that exhibit a "Single List of ingredients" which require by law that all the ingredients used be listed are still few. Quite obviously, if we read ingredients like whole milk, fresh fruit, eggs and fresh whipped cream off the list, we can breathe a sigh of relief and start choosing our favorite flavor. Be on guard instead if you find ingredients listed that start with the letter E followed by a number: it means food coloring is used and there should never be any in good homemade ice cream: it's only a trick to fool the eye.
What can you tell us about flavors: which ones should we pick?
There's no limit to personal taste, one can be creative: at Gelato Giusto we also use basil, ginger or other less common ingredients. The important thing is to choose flavors of fruits that are in season. If you find mandarin ice cream in August, it's very likely that it wasn't made with good fresh fruit, but that premade mixtures were used. The same applies for strawberry in October…
What flavors should we choose in summer?
The great classics and cream-flavored ice cream always rank at the top, from chocolate to "fior di latte" to "stracciatella" (milk ice cream with chocolate chips), while if you are in the mood for fruit flavors, my advice is go for
apricot, peach, raspberry, cantaloupe, watermelon, lemon…
And then from August to September there's American grape, which is delicious.
And what would you suggest when it comes to wafers and cones?
Wafers are obviously bought from the factory, so it's up to them to choose quality. I can tell you though that, for the same reasons I mentioned before, it's best to be weary of colored wafers…
And what should we do if we don't find ice cream shops that fit these requisites? Can we trust a household brand like Grom?
Grom has the merit of raising the standard of quality in Italy and by now elsewhere in the world too; they make a good product, even if it isn't made in the ice cream shop where you are eating your ice cream. The quality of the ingredients they use is guaranteed. But you shouldn't stop being curious when traveling: ask passer-bys or having locals suggest the right place can be reassuring and fun.
One last question Vittoria: where do you go to eat good ice cream that isn't your own?
There are many ice cream shops I am fond of, but I certainly don't know all of those in Italy! I can speak highly of De' Coltelli in Pisa, Soban in Valenza, and "Albero dei Gelati" in Seregno. I'd even send my own mother there.