June 8th, 2014


I Scream, You Scream ...

The back story on my recent vacation is that a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon the existence of the Firenze Gelato Festival. I had other travel commitments that prevented me from going, but I filed away the info for the future. Last year, I decided I could make it work for this year and, since the web site suggested the 2014 festival would be May 21-25, I arranged to be in Firenze part of that time.

And then, a few weeks before leaving, I checked the website again, and the festival had become May 1-4. I couldn't change my vacation plans for a number of reasons, so I decided I would just make the best of it. In other words, I would just go and eat lots of gelato where I could. I found a couple of lists of places to try (a list for Firenze, another for Bologna) and supplemented that with a few recommendations from friends. I also checked out a place or two merely because I was passing by and they looked crowded with happy-looking people.

So what were the results?

I started in Pisa. I was only there one night and only tried two places. La Bottega del Gelato had the bigger line (and tables outside on the plaza). I got pinoli and crema, scoring both just a B, as the flavors were not particularly rich. Gelateria de' Coltelli was more or less around the corner, but has no seating. I tasted a couple of odd flavors there - ricotta with sweet olives and pear with pink peppercorns, both of which were complete failures. But I won't grade them, as I didn't have full servings. Instead, I got the pineapple, which only rated a C+ due to poor texture and the pistachio, which I gave a B+ to. I could only hope Firenze would be better.

Fortunately, it was. Vivoli was the big winner, with a riso (rice) gelato that was extraordinary. It's sort of like frozen rice pudding or maybe kheer, but so very creamy and delicious. It earned an A++ from me (and I got it again at a second visit). Other flavors I had there were chocolate orange (A+), pear with caramel (A-) and strawberry (B+/A-).

Grom is a big chain. which even has locations in New York. There I got torrancino (nougat), which was quite good, scoring A-/B+. But their salted caramel was disappointing, with little flavor and I gave it a B-/B.

Carabe is a bit north, but is convenient if you are going to commune with Michelangelo's David. Their almond was tasty (A-). I had somewhat more mixed feelings about something called Sicilian spirit (B+/A-) largely because I couldn't really identify what its flavoring was.

Perche No was disappointing. Their chocolate with rum and orange scored an A-, losing points for graininess. The cinnamon (canella in Italian) was a major letdown (B+/B) because it was actually too intense and not well balanced.

Rinascimento had not been on the list I had, but proved to be my second favorite. In particular, their cheese and pear got an A+ for strong fruit flavor and good texture. Their buontalenti (untranslated, other than to claim it was their secret recipe) got an A.

At Gelateria dei Neri, I had croccantino (nut brittle) and white chocolate, each of which got a B+/A- for not being intense enough. That was not a problem at La Carraia, where the fondamente (dark chocolate) sscored an A/A- and the cheesecake scored an A-.

Finally, I went to Cantina del Gelato where I had whiskey and caneella (cinnamon, that is), which got a B+ and was much better balanced than Perche No's cinnamon had been. I also had mascarpone e nutella, which only got a B-. I think nutella just doesn't work well in ice cream because it is such a dominant flavor on its own.

Overall, I'd say it is worth going to Firenze to eat at Vivoli again. But Rinascimento is also worth a stop and, had it been closer to my hotel, I would inevitably have made a second visit to it.

Moving on to Bologna, I started with Galleria 49 on the grounds that it was across the street from my hotel. This was a oood choice as the Caribe (rum and vanilla) was excellent, earning an A/A+ and the Cuba (dark chocolate and orange peel) got a solid A-. I revisited it and got Moro (which I recorded as also being dark chocolate and orange, but was definitely not the same as the Cuba) which got a B+/A- and Mediterraneo (almond, pistachio, and pinoli) which got an A+.

Gelateria della Moline is near the University and does a fine praline (A/A+) and a worthy delioza di ciocalata (chocolate and something) that earned an A-/B+. I had some moments of sloppiness in record keeping so recorded Cremeria Setta Chiese as having farinella ? and "Crema di something" which both scored B+.

Places in Bologna seemed to go in for complex names and none more so than Gelateria Gianni. They had a flavor named after the Vermeer paining "The Girl With the Pearl Earring" (which had just visited Bologna) but it only got a B-/C. I liked Il Sole (orange with chocolate and candied almonds) better but just to a B/B+.

The best of Bologna proved to be Cremeria Funivia. Leonardo was the most successful pinoli gelato I had, with a strong flavor of the roasted nuts, earning an A-. Santo Luca (white chocolate and rice) was disappointing (B/B+) because it was overwhelmed by the other flavors I'd gotten. New York New York proved to be an excellent maple pecan and earned an A+. On a second visit, Alice (ricotta with chocolate sauce) earned an A/A-, while cassata siciliana got an A+. When done properly, this is like a frozen version of the filling for cannoli and this was an excellent version of it.

Unfortunately, La Sorbetteria Castigliano failed at the Cassata Siciliana, scoring a B/B-. Even worse was their Dolce Emma, with sweet caramel and figs, that I found too sweet and just sticky, getting just a B-. This was especially disappointing as it had been a particularly long walk to get there.

Il Gelatauro was also out of the way but the walk was more rewarding. The Zenzaro (ginger) just got a B/B+ but the Arancia (orange) got a B+/A-. The revelation was something called Principe di Calabria that had ricotta, bergamot, and jasmine and which earned an A/A+ from me for its mixture of delicate flavors.

Bear in mind that, even with as much sampling as I did, I didn't come close to tasting everything on offer. I found that, in general, nut and creamy flavors worked better than pure fruit flavors. It is probably sheer coincidence but the best places in each of the cities were ones where you paid first and then ordered (which is somewhat more traditional).

Would I have liked going to the actual festival? Sure. But I think I did pretty well on my own.