In today’s post, Don Day welcomes a guest blogger, his amigo of 50+ years, Pedrito Ross. Pedrito’s now watching time go by again in San Miguel de Allende after a long absence and, like Don Day, Pedrito has always been an aspiring writer who never quite made it to the big show. Don Day has been telling him it’s not too late to go back to Triple A and start blogging. Today, for the first time, he did.
A few days ago, I wandered fifty paces or so down Cuna de Allende to see if there were any remnants of the old La Fragua, one of my favourite haunts in the 70’s. In those days, the first stop on the rounds was Jesus Correa’s Cucaracha – the original, right on the Jardin. “Chucho” was the Buddha of San Miguel de Allende and I still miss him. The second stop was always Rafael’s La Fragua. To my chagrin, there wasn’t much there. But you know, everything changes and, to my amazement and delight, tucked off in the left side of the original portico was a gelateria, Gelato Dolce Far Niente…and…Alexandra – the girl with the most beautiful eyes in San Miguel.
Gelato may generally be considered Italian ice cream, but it’s not – not even close. Gelato is itself. It is the real deal. Here are the facts, give or take a little.
For the uninitiated, one of the greatest culinary experiences in Rome is discovering gelato. I still remember my first time, and asking myself, “Does this gelato taste almost orgasmic just because I’m sitting at the Trevi Fountain, tossing in a few coins and staring with hope at that spectacular brunette in five inch stilettos?” The answer? No, true gelato is just that good and, with the care and attention to detail shown by Alexandra Silen and her partner Guillermo Obregon, you can have that same experience right here in San Miguel.
What’s in it for me? The key ingredients in gelato are milk, cream, sugars and flavorings of fresh fruit or nut puree. In the USA, where almost everything else is regulated, gelato is not. In Italy, where gelato is more of a culture than a brand, it is, and the minimum is 3.5 % butterfat with no upper limit. Dairy based gelato has in the range of 16-24% sugar, while most U.S. ice cream would contain 12-16%.
U.S. ice cream usually has a minimum of 10% fat; gelato more like 5-7%. This higher percentage of whole milk to cream along with a slower churning process, results in a dish that is 25-30% air as opposed to up to 50% in U.S. ice creams. Not just flavor, but the density factor is a critical component of the process.
As is temperature. You can go anywhere and have a frozen treat that is cold, wet, colorful and sweet. However, to experience the flavour and pop of fresh ingredients, freezing is out of the question. Gelato is served soft and the trick to that lies in the form of a sugar antifreeze. Using dextrose, sucrose and inverted sugar, the contents can be balanced with the water content to act as a basic antifreeze.
Holding it all together is a stabilizing base, usually of egg yolk for the yellow custard based gelatos; some non-fat milk solids, starches and gums as well as cornstarch can also be used to stabilize and thicken.
The ancient Egyptians, Romans and Sicilians were no strangers to frozen desserts. Snow and ice was brought down from mountains and stored in cavas. The Medici served it at court and we have the Florentine chef Buontalenti to thank for apparently inventing the first ice cream machine in 1565. Centuries later the first gelato carts made it into the streets of Varese and, today, the currently most celebrated geletiere and national award winner is Palmero Bruschi, of the Gelateria Creperia Ghignoni on the outskirts of Sansepolcro, Tuscany.
True gelato provides a high impact, intense flavour without forcing it on you. There should be no iciness and definitely no high octane colours – if there is, something’s amiss. Fire some fresh strawberries in a blender and they won’t produce a colour that looks like a neon “open” sign.
What makes gelato so special – what is that magic “Je ne sais quoi”? For me, I believe it’s two things. The first is subjective – the whole Gelaterie Artigianale thing – the handcrafted aspect of the making that gives you the sense that these are folks who care about the end product and its culture. Gelato has romance. “Goloso”: Only the Italians would have a word for a lust for food that goes beyond mere craving.
The second is more technical. Sounds trite, but gelato really does provide a superb melt in the mouth experience. The mouth does not become as coated as it does with ice cream and thus the flavors seem much more intense.
After deciding to live full time in San Miguel (tough choice), Alex and Guillermo made the move and decided to open Gelato Dolce Far Niente. Alex had been working as a business counselor at the Danish Embassy and Guillermo, a lawyer by trade, studied to be a geletiere at the Geleteria University in Buenos Aires – it’s all about chemistry. Their mission is simple – provide true handcrafted gelato from a sustainably-minded company that can support local suppliers.
At the heart of the operation is a Carpigani – the unit of choice of 90% of Italian gelato makers. Yes you could buy a Ferrari for what one costs, but it won’t be able to churn gelato like that one can. The most popular flavors here in San Miguel would appear to be chocolate, white chocolate, pistachio, hazelnut and, of course, vanilla. The sorbellos are dependent on seasonal fruits – the way it should always be – if the fresh ingredients aren’t there, you can’t fake it.
What’s the price? Forget about it – it’s not about the price.
OK, cone or cup? Absolutely a cone and always two flavors. The only time a cup is really acceptable is when you are going to the opera and don’t want to wear any.
The bottom line is that gelato is not just Italian ice cream – quite the reverse. Ice cream would be better defined as perhaps the poorer second cousin to gelato. From my first taste, Gelato Dolce Far Niente provided me with everything I wanted – the smoothness on the palate, the perfect temperature and high impact, intense flavor that can only come from fresh ingredients.
Sitting with my partner, on a favourite bench in San Miguel’s Jardin, gazing as ever at La Parrochia, one of the world’s most beautiful churches, I smiled fondly as I remembered my first time.
Gelato Dolce Far Niente is located at Cuna de Allende #3 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm Monday to Friday and 11:00 am to 11:00 pm Saturday and Sunday.