Thursday, May 24, 2012

Florence Gelato Festival

Today Beautiful Florence blog photographer and myself visited Florence's Gelato Festival and got the real scoop.  Details tomorrow.

The Florence Gelato festival, which we visited yesterday afternoon, is on through
Sunday, May 27 (open noon - midnight).  The hours are such because I imagine that Italians would celebrate their coffee break with a shot of dark espresso coffee up to noon.  Dinner in Florence is any time between 8 and 10 pm, so gelato would be the perfect dessert.

Having experienced Florence's Chocolate Fair (see Feb. 17 post),
 I was expecting
more of the same with the Gelato Festival, a fairly new entry on Florence's food fest scene.

Well, as we discovered, the script was a bit different.
No spoonful of free gelato appeared under one's nose in again the centrally located
 Piazza della Repubblica as happened with chocolate
 during the Chocolate Fair.

Instead we discovered tourists lining up for a 15 euro Gelato Card
that allowed one five tastings, plus a gelato cocktail in addition to other perks.
The card even featured an English translation.

Gelato card, indeed!  This in a country where spoonfuls of gelato are customarily offered as taste samples.  I was disappointed.  It wasn't free gelato I was seeking;  after all I could have pulled out my press pass and gone to town.  No, I was putting myself in the shoes of the visitor.  Was this just some commercial venture?

So I asked the cashier where some free gelato samples were to be found at the fair.  "Not in here in Piazza Repubblica,"  she said, "try one of the other Gelato Festival locations, say, Piazza Santa Maria Novella."

We hit gold, well to be more precise, a free sampling of chocolate ice cream in
Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

After a few stern, firm turndowns--"gelato card, please"--a young lady extended this complementary spoonful.  She was in the employ of Carmelo Chiaramida, a master gelato maker of clear Sicilian origin (it can be argued that the best gelato in Italy comes from Sicily) who lives and works in near Udine, above Venice.

So the sign told us.

Afterwards, when we identified ourselves as doing a story.
Carmelo immediately scooped out
(see opening picture) more of his
intensely rich dark chocolate ice cream,
which is interspersed with bits of chocolate
muffin, and topped with black cherries.

There goes dinner, I thought.

Carmelo explained that he uses only the best dark chocolate, melted only with hot water and not milk.

The black cherry sauce is meant to add contrast, he said.

He also told us that the only the best ice makers in Italy are invited to the Gelato Festival, where each specializes
in just one flavor.

Well, the next gelato master who offered us a
free sample was obviously a non Italian.  He also
advertised this fact with a large Canadian flag
in the background.

We made the kind acquaintance of gelato passionate
 James Coleridge, from Vancouver.

"This is the largest Gelato Festival in world," he told us.  "And why are you here?" I asked.
"I was the top ranked North American in the World Gelato Championships," he said, "and like everyone else here, I was invited."

I began to understand why there was a 15 euro Gelato Card.
"Well, I just give out gelato," said James.  "My philosophy is taste, taste, taste."

So, what taste treat is in the hand of your faithful Beautiful Florence blogger?
It is none other than Jame's signature pecan ice cream,
made from California pecans, Moldon salt from the U.K,. and sprinkled with carmelized pecans and slighted warmed Canadian maple syrup.

"There are four flavor notes," James noted.

I noted the maple syrup from Quebec nearby.

Although I am a fan of both homemade American ice cream and Italian gelato,
James told me many things that I did not know.

"Ice cream is composed of up to 25% fat, while gelato averages less than 7%," he said.
"Gelato is best conserved out of sight in steel vats in order to maintain the integrity of the ice crystals," said this graduate of the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria and 
the Carpignano Gelato University in Bologna.

Well, at this point I was close to speechless.
Unbeknownst to us, however, another gelato surprise lay in wait nearby.

This is Alessandro, the nephew (don't you love it) of Toni Cafarelli,
the self styled Re di Gelato (King of Gelato),
who makes "Sicilian gelato" on Florence's viale Strozzi across from
the Fortezza da Basso.

The bottle of olive oil next to Alessandro is no coincidence.  His uncle's stand displays
a creamy crema gelato flavored with one of six types of high quality olive oil produced by Prunetti near San Polo in Chianti (a half hour from Florence).
The types were classified by Tuscan olive varieties.  Tawny tried the one with a dash of oil made from mild Leccino olives.

The Gelato King's gelato was to die for, even on sight.

The surprises continued.  Not only did this gelato taste as good as it looks,
when putting a cupful together, Alessandro went to work with a will and skill that would make his
invisibile uncle-king proud.

He sprinkled on just a little crushed black pepper, ground poppy seed and bread crumbs as well as red salt from Hawaii (!!!)

"That way the gelato is both cold and warm, sweet and salty,"
said Alessandro.
"The entire palate is involved."

Well, earlier we had noticed homemade, mainly gluten free ice cream offered at a democratic price not part of the Gelato Card by Coop, Italy's giant cooperative supermarket.

Well, as good as the Coop's premium gelato might be, it was nothing compared to the
olive oil ice cream with special toppings
by the self-anointed (by popular acclaim) Gelato King.

See the crushed bread crumbs, poppy seeds, black and pink pepper?
The taste experience brought a flavor memory to mind.

I suddenly realized why 25 years ago, with a only a few lire (Italian currency) in my pocket
I opted to have gelato--and nothing else--for lunch.