Spring will be in the air before we know it. Gelato is one the sweetest ways we can celebrate this great season of abundance: amazing colors, flavors, classic, and unusual combinations. Our trips in Sicily, Southern Amalfi and Bike Across Southern Italy are toppling over with the absolute BEST gelaterie––in the world! Read on as two of our Top Guides tell the stories of the faces behind the counter.
Sicily: Fresh Fruit, Nuts, and Prickly Pear
According to Top Guide Enrico Pizzorni, "Sicily is simply where it all began." Many don't realize the true origins of this sweet. The Romans started keeping the snow of Etna in caves carved on the insulating volcanic stone on both the West and North side of the volcano. From there, the compact snow was packed into wooden boxes and wrapped in chestnut leaves. These boxes were then delivered to rich, noble people of the island, where it was then mixed with fruits and honey making a kind of "ancient sorbet." The Arabs carried on the tradition, perfecting it and even planning their routes under the most cool areas or as shady as possible to preserve the precious snow from melting. The system was so perfect that snow lasted from one winter to the other. Eventually the Archbishop of Catania profited from this early gelato trade.
For Sicilians gelato is, unlike the rest of Italy, an everyday staple. One can catch business men in suits enjoying gelato or granita in a brioche (a kind of cool morning "sandwich" ) on their way to work––with or without whipped cream. Sicily is literally Italy's best fruit bowl. Yet we can't forget the DOP pistachio of Bronte, on the side of Etna and the almonds of Avola, located on the south slopes. Other outstanding ingredients include ricotta, honey, and gelso (mulberry) and, of course, lemons. The chocolate, brought by the Spanish, comes from the town Modica, and is made to keep crystals of sugar intact, allowing for a surprising crunchy texture.
On our Ciclismo Classico La Bella Sicilia tour we have a great variety of gelaterie to visit, all of them boasting highest quality and the freshest of ingredients. Enrico gives us a day by day recount of the stellar gelato hotspots we hit on tour.
"On Day 2 and 3, after a spontaneous ricotta tasting in the main square of Vizzini, we visit Gelati di Vini, a legendary gelateria in the main square of Ibla, displaying the most fantastic and unusual flavors. A few specials: rosemary, onion of Giarratana (IGP), Moscato wine and the Aztec chocolate with hot pepper. The owner takes great pride in all the products he sources locally. On Day 4, en route to Siracusa, we stop in ancient Greek village of Palazzolo Acreide where the Gelateria Corsino rules. Classic ice creams, with ricotta from the nearby Monti Iblei. One very special cassata made of ricotta, crunched pistacchio and candied fruit is a quasi Sicilian icon. On the same day, in Ortigia, on the main square, there's Gelateria Bianca, another must-see spot. On Day 6 in Taormina, in between the crowds flocking to mediocre gelaterie––we race to Stecco Natura where they make a "popsicle" made, of course, gelato ingredients. Finally, on the Aeolian Islands we have two places we adore: the legendary Subba in Lipari, famous for pastries and ice cream. Their "star" flavor is the malaga made with raisins. Next up is Alfredo, in Lingua, on the isle of Salina. The owner, Alfredo, has been serving granita for 60 years to generations of enthralled visitors. Today his son and daughter run the place and while some flavors vary with the seasons, coffee, almond, chocolate, pistachio and almond are always available. Watermelon, fig, prickly pear and peach flavors are delightful in season. Pure poetry!"
Bike Across Southern Italy: From Granita to Rum
Ciclismo Classico guide extraordinaire Frank Yantorno shares his favorite refreshing gelato haunts along the route:
"On Bike Across Southern Italy we explore a variety of gelato as we journey our way through four different regions, each boasting their own different flavors, textures, and ingredients based on the seasonal fruits of the local territory. Here are just a few highlights:
The beautiful seaside town where we start this tour is not only well known as the birthplace of Domenico Modugno who wrote Ciclismo Classico’s theme song “Volare”, but it is also very famous to Italians as the gelato town as well. The gelataio Mario Campanella who has become known as “Super Mago Del Gelato” is legendary. In the 1930’s he started out as an almond seller’s son who mixed le gattose – grated ice with almonds to make a popular refreshing "granita" and sold it from a cart since he was 8-years-old. He has since become known as The Mago del Gelo, (The Magician of Ice). His bar/gelateria is a destination in and of itself for many Italian travelers and is hopping from 5:30am until 3:00am. Naturally we wouldn’t be doing our jobs as respectable Ciclismo Classico tour leaders if we didn’t bring our guests to this historic gelateria.
On Day 2 we stop at our friends', Pino and Marina, “Barino” for a quick cafe. Their little bar seems like nothing special, until we walk in and are greeted like long lost family! Marina loves to make us her special espressino freddo. At most bars this is just a creamy cafe from a machine, but we know Marina has her own special recipe, made with much added love––and she serves up to our groups heaps of loving refreshment. On the very same day, in Alberobello, we visit another great gelato amica, Katia. Her gelateria L’Arte Fredda (The Frozen Art), is just that and so much more. She is an artful master of the senses and only makes gelato from whole, natural, local and seasonal ingredients. For example her pistachio gelato is made only from the Pistacchi (DOP) from Bronte on the flanks of Mont Etna in Sicily, or fresh cherries from the exact trees which have been shading our ride that very same day, or almonds from the gnarly trees lining the same bike route. Katia’s gelateria is one of the best in all of Italy and therefore, the whole world! OK. We'll let you be the judge!
On Day 6 and 7 in Palinuro we visit Carmello’s Cioccolato e Pistacchio Gelateria. Carmello is an aging gelato master who grew up making and selling Gelato. He recalls working with his father in the 40’s and 50’s when they made and sold gelato and granita from a push cart on the beaches of Palinuro. He has been making gelato his whole life. Carmello is a very humble and soft spoken master of his craft. Even the way he gently scoops out his masterful creations is zen like. However what makes Carmello’s gelato, other than the 70 years of experience, is in the pairing of ingredients in some of his masterful mixtures. For example one of his signature mixtures is called “Tartufon” a play on the Idea of Tartufo gelato––a pre-packaged chocolate gelato covered with chocolate shavings and a dark chocolate heart. With all that chocolate how could you go wrong? Well, it's not only the quality of (dark) chocolate, temperature and texture plus other ingredients like fresh almonds and honey all mix for a unique taste sensation. He also often invents gelato using some of the flavors which come from more local and traditional culinary recipes which may not be typically used in gelato. For example, he makes an amazing Baba al Rum flavored gelato. This tasty rum soaked cake dessert of the Campania region, is delightful after a meal, but Carmello’s Baba al Rum gelato could well be the perfect ending to a spectacular bike ride: 20kms of descent all the way to the sea! As we will be in Palinuro for two nights we will have time for multiple visits to sample many of Carmello’s inventions as well as a gelato or granita making demo. Don't you think Paradise must look something like this?"
Photo: Carol Sicbaldi
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