As you can imagine, I achieved a new personal best when it came to gelato eating last week in Italy. Five kinds in one day. For research purposes, of course – and because it was a thousand degrees outside… even my knees were sweating. You can’t just pop in and grab some pasta whilst walking the cobblestone streets (I mean you could, but spaghetti might be tricky to walk with) and believe it or not, the pizza was iffy. But the gelato warranted extensive research.
The one phrase I learned to say fluently on my trip was “uno media cuppa fior di latte per favore. Grazie!” – “one medium cup of fior di latte (or pistachio, limone, stracciatella) please. Thank you!”
(Or so I thought – occasionally I’d walk in and confidently place my order in Italian, and they’d answer in English… apparently I wasn’t fooling anyone.) Then I learned that no matter where you went, if you asked for your gelato in a cone they’d scoop and scrape the two flavours of your choice into a rose using the small paddle. So I had to learn the word for cone. Priorities.
Just as you’d expect anywhere else, there was fantastic gelato and so-so gelato. The first two places we tried, on the first two days, were OK – but we were told about a spot across the fountain roundabout from the Academia Barilla, where the pasta world championships were happening last week, that apparently had the best gelato in Parma. And so I snuck out during the semifinals to investigate further. Later that night I found myself in front of a nice-looking gelato shop, a well-known chain called Grom, by the restaurant where we were eating dinner, and it was proclaimed the best in Italy. Who was I to miss out on the best in the whole country? So I went – before and after dinner. I still think the place by the fountain was better. (I went back for a second opinion, just to be sure.)
Fior di latte is the test of a good gelato shop – Italian for flower of milk (or milk flower?), it often refers to fresh mozzarella when it’s made with cows’ milk rather than the traditional buffalo milk, but in this case it refers to gelato in its purest form – just sweetened cream, no flavourings, no egg yolks.
It’s not vanilla – it’s just cream – this is the thing to use the very best cream you can find for, like 52% from Vital Green Farms that’s as thick as molasses.
All it needs is to be sweetened – no custard required. You do this by simmering some of your milk or cream with some sugar, and a pinch of salt just to keep it from tasting flat. Then stir in the rest of the cold milk and cream, and you’re halfway to cooling it down enough to freeze in an ice cream machine.
This may seem boring, but trust me – it’s not. It can also be used as a blank gelato canvas – steep sprigs of fresh rosemary or lavender (or ginger, or mint) in the milk or cream, then strain it before you stir in the sugar, or make stracciatella gelato by stirring in chopped dark chocolate at the very end, once the gelato is frozen but still soft.
As-is, I do believe I’ve found a soulmate for my summer pies.
Fior di Latte Gelato
2 cups whole milk or half & half
1/2-3/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
In a medium saucepan, bring about a cup of the milk almost to a simmer with the sugar – heat it, whisking, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and pour in the rest of the milk, the cream and a pinch of salt. (Doing it this way will kickstart the cooling process – it won’t take as long as if you heated it all up to begin with.)
Cover and refrigerate the mixture until it’s well chilled, then freeze in the bowl of an ice cream machine. Makes about 1 L.