Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How to taste gelato in Rome

I love gelato, and last year when I went to Rome for a month I decided to do a thorough survey of the gelaterias of Rome. Some of my fanaticism conflicted with having a good time with my wife, and I wisely defaulted to having a good time as much as I could. Nevertheless I was able to test out something close to 30 gelaterias in Rome and come up (just barely) with an overall best:

Come Il Latte

And a favorite flavor:

Lavender, at La Strega Nocciola.

I learned a lot about gelato, gelaterias, and gelato tasting. In prepation for tomorrows huge, giant, thrilling reveal of the new, from my latest trip, greatest gelateria in Rome (Spoiler alert; close your eyes if you don't want to know yet: it's Fatamorgana) I wanted to share some of the useful things I've learned.

Oh, and the spoiler alert is over so you can open your eyes again.

1. Flavor combinations are dangerous.

Yes, it's a thing to have three or four flavors in a cup, but they tend to easily muck each other up. Two complimentary, but distinct flavors are far safer and more likely to be enjoyable. One might be ideal, but a foil is useful and, see item four.

2. Popularity is not a reliable indicator of quality.

Most of the gelaterias of the central city are pretty busy on a warm afternoon, and massive crowds queuing at Giolitti have more to do with fame, herd mentality, and location than mastery.

3. Chocolate flavors make for poor test cases.

I'm not saying don't get all chocolate flavors all the time if that's what you love, but chocolate is too easy and too constant a flavoring to tell the story if you want to be an unpaid semi-professional reviewer like me. Some say Fior di Latte is the way to go as what it comes down to is unflavored gelato, but that goes too far the other way to me in its subtle plainness, and, for comparisons sake, it isn't offered everywhere.

4. One or two (or even three or four) flavors might not tell the tale.

Really good gelato is tricky stuff, based as it is on real ingredients. This is because real ingredients vary. Some strawberries, or avocados, or pistachios, are fantastic, some are simply okay and all this comes through in really good gelato. The ideal gelateria would only work with fantastic organic ingredients sampled constantly and would manage to have maybe six or seven flavors a day at best instead of the more usual 20 or 30. And a gelato there would probably cost 7 or 8 euros. But I haven't seen this sort of approach anywhere yet. 

If the gelato is mediocre or poor somewhere the gelateria should probably be dismissed. And if it's amazing you should see what else they can do. But if it's simply really good you'd probably need to work through eight or nine flavors to have a good picture of the place. But that's a rule few to none of us are intrepid enough to follow.

5. Weird is good!

If someone can pull off pear/gorgonzola gelato then they seriously know what they're doing. But you're taking your life into your own hands here.

6. Don't get distracted. Okay, get distracted.

Try not to get too caught up on your counter experience. They may be mean, or unfriendly, or charming and wonderful, but it will all be over quickly and the cool gelato will be in your hot little hands and the judging should begin there. You don't have to go back. On the other hand if all the gorgeous buildings and visions of Rome distract you and dazzle your heart and make your gelato seem better than it is, well, let it. Your gelato has earned that one.

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