In September, as fresh flavors fill in the garden, berry patch, and orchard, it seemed a perfect time to hunt for the best Gelato.
“Flavor is what Gelato is all about,” says Guy Chandonnet who buys Fairway’s frozen foods and deserts, “Unlike ice cream,” he told us, “low fat gelato doesn’t coat the taste buds with butterfat. So its full flavors can really burst through.
As we tasted our way though both store-bought and shop-scooped Gelato in Southern Connecticut, we were dazzled with the invention and intensity of flavors.
Because it's slow churned, Gelato is denser and silkier than ice cream, making it a superior platform for flavor. And since Gelato melts more quickly in the mouth, it delivers that flavor quickly and dramatically. That's why most gelato masters delight in imaginative, often unexpected flavor adventures, mixing sweet, savory, salty and tart, and incorporating fruits, vegetables, herbs, cheeses, and even meat flavors into their frozen creations. What’s in season often translates to what’s in Gelato.
Here are some of the spectacular flavors we recently tasted in Southern Connecticut’s supermarkets and gelato shoppes.
Report. Because of the low emulsification in Gelato, it’s best when absolutely fresh, like that made daily on site in a local gelateria. For maximum freshness and flavor, gelato should be served within 24 hours after it’s made. That’s why we did not include the gelato bar at Whole Foods or shops like Chocopologie, who buy their gelato from other purveyors, and can’t guarantee it’s made fresh that day. Since gelato melts faster than ice cream, we limited our servings to one scoop at a time and ate fast. (unlike colder ice cream, there’s no brain freeze!) Here are the top three we tasted, in alphabetical order.
GELATISSIMO. New Canaan. “ It’s Florence on Forest Street, the best gelato we’ve had in America,” so say many connoisseurs. Perhaps that’s because Italian born Nuccia and Andrea Mazzenetto consider gelato an art form. To best experience the art of a classicl gelato, we tried the Vanilla, which Nuccia chose as the tell-tale Gelato-- it can’t hide behind any other flavors. Her version seemed the quintessential vanilla gelato: velvety smooth, with an easy melt, followed by a sweet, lingering finish. In a word, “fantastico!” Which also describes her creamy coconut, refreshing chocolate mint, and deep cappuccino. Of course, all ingredients are top quality, sourced locally or imported from Italy.
Though Nuccia trained as a classical gelato master, she also experiments with nuovo gelato, sometimes playing with florals like jasmine and lavender and herbs such as rosemary. The day we met, she was perfecting a basil and goat cheese gelato, but hadn’t quite achieved the right balance. “Gelato is all about exact proportions,” she said. “I measure everything. “ Another secret: she likes to add a little cream to her fresh, local milk to render it more buttery,” like our Italian cows make.”
In the summer, Gelatissimo offers 20-22 flavors from a repertoire of 60, with popular standards and a few new fusions thrown in for fun. On rainy days, the selection goes down to 16, and in the winter only 14 are served. Popular flavors sell fast, so with constant replenishing, most of the gelato is only hours old. Gelatissimo is also available at Il Palio Restaurant in Shelton and the Easton Village Store.
26 Forest St (203) 966-5000 gelatissimoartisangelato.com
LE FENICE. Greenwich. Unlike our other gelato masters, Simona Silvestri shuns fancy new gelato creations. “If it’s not found in Italy,” she tells, “It won’t be in my store.” She is passionate about authenticity, importing all her ingredients from Italy, except for fruits, sugar, and milk. To come as close to rich Italian milk, Silvestri buys hers from a farm she found in Upstate New York. Her pistachios come from Sicily, her chocolate from Torino. More than buttery, her Cioccolato tastes clean, fresh, almost crisp. The fast melt releases the full array of cocoa flavors, and the aftertaste is delicate and clean. We also were amazed by the classic Stracciatella, vanilla gelato needled with chocolate, reminiscent of American chocolate chip, but smoother (because the candy is shaved and better integrated in the gelato) Simona told us South Americans love it. But the hordes of Italians who flock to Le Fenice from New York and Southern Connecticut, often opt for her creamy Nutella, with its hint of roasted nuts, imported from the Piedmont region. Americans tend to choose mint chocolate or fruits, which Simona buys from local markets. For late summer, she is featuring both Apricot and Fig, a fruit that is found fresh only in late summer.
Simona insists on freshness. She pasteurizes her milk and sugar base overnight, and churns in the flavors when she comes into the store from her home in Wilton. Every patrons in her gleaming shoppe is tasting gelato made that morning.
The store seems imported from Simona’s home town of Lecce, Italy, the Florence of the South. Tucked in a long, narrow space, with dark woods, and shiny glass cases, the surgically clean cafe is bathed in the fragrances of fresh baked waffle cones, pastries, gelatos, and espresso. Though only two doors away from Starbucks on Greenwich Ave, the shop does a brisk business in both Italian and American coffee. And Le Fenice is the only cafe in the area that serves the Italian rage, Crème Espresso. This creamy confection, somewhere between gelato and espresso, can either be sipped or spooned.
This spring Simona bought the cafe from her former boss, renaming it Le Fenice, which means the Phoenix. Indeed, the gelateria has been born again, this time with a true Italian soul.
315 Greenwich Avenue Lefinecegelato.com (203) 992-1030
VOLTA. Stamford. Giovanni Gentile’s lush gelato is often paired with the crepes he also makes at his sleek European style gelateria and creperie. “Cold and warm go so good together,” he told us. So we tried a sweet hazelnut gelato, melting on a warm sugary crepe filled with gooey nutella and slices of just ripened banana. Ambrosia for the Sugar Gods.
Volta’s signature, Banana Foster, delves even sweeter: a sugary crepe strewn with orange butter and caramelized bananas, then swathed in both dulce de leche and chocolate sauces and topped with a scoop of vanilla. Order any sweet crepe, and you can add a scoop of gelato for just 2 dollars. Warm and Chilled. French and Italian.
Mix and Match applies not only to the crepe and gelato menu, but the vibe of the trendy young crowd. The fun and romance of gelato has made Volta a favorite date spot. Volta also serves the most popular brunch in Southwest Connecticut, and yes, gelato is on the menu
To enhance his Gelato’s authenticity, Giovanni imported a $70,000 suite of gleaming machinery from Italy. After pasteurizing and churning the gelato, a 5 liter tub goes into a freezer that reaches a temperature of 40 degrees below zero. It takes just 20 seconds of its Artic blast to seal any of the two dozen different flavors in Volta’s portfolio. All of them also taste great as solos, including deep Chocolate, and a sweet Lemoncell, one of Giovanni’s favorites. Volta gelato is also served at his two other Stamford restaurants, Bar Russo and Capriccio, as well as Luca’s in Wilton and Piccola in Ridgefield.
30 Spring St. 203 883 8841 volta.us
Report. Gelato does not enjoy the long shelf-life of ice cream, whose higher butterfat helps to freeze in freshness. Maybe that explains why such major brands as Häagen-Dazsand Chao Bella tasted a bit off. Most supermarkets carry only 2 to 4 brands of Gelato, compared to more than a dozen ice creams. But Gelato continues to show the fastest growth in the frozen food category.
In alphabetical order, these are the tree top brands we found in the freezer aisles....
GELATO FIASCO. With a name like Fiasco, you know it's going to be fun. Exhibit A: Wild Maine Blueberry Crisp, which whisked us back to Mom's blueberry crisp ala mode. Wild Maine blueberries picked just miles from Fiasco's production facility are swirled with crunchy oat streusel and rich, creamy vanilla, making for an ensemble of competing but complimentary textures and tastes. WMBC stands out as our absolute favorite flavor of all commercial gelatos (though a noted food critic told us he was disappointed by the oat crisp.) Strawberry-Rhubarb, farm and garden fresh, came in a close second. A dash of balsamic vinegar and lemon as well as sea salt, heightens the sweet and pungent flavors of the fruit and vegetable, which are re-intensified by the creamy vanilla gelato. These are just two of 1200 flavors Fiasco holds in a recipe vault, which includes such amazing interpretations as Olive Oil or Indian Chai.
Gelato Fiasco is as close to scoop shop fresh as you can find in a Supermarket. That’s because the brand was born in a Maine gelateria, and co-founders Josh Davis and Bruno Tropeano scrupulously maintain their artisanal standards in the wholesale product. Every gelato is made from scratch and churned with fresh organic milk sourced from small local dairy farms ("We know the cows," Davis proudly told us). Because the gelato is hand made in small batches, supplies are limited. Just one lone truck delivers the gelato to selected stores in New England, including Stew Leonard's in Norwalk. There is talk of national distribution, but for now, Southern Connecticut is the furthest outpost of a gelato they describe as "Inspired by Italy, Perfected in Maine." And it's anything but a fiasco.
GELATO GIULIANA. Giuliana Maravelle hand crafts her boutique gelatos in a small New Haven factory. The ones we sampled delivered complex flavor intensity, especially her eponymous La Giuliana. This chocolate gelato blends in two of Italy’s signature flavors: espresso and mascarpone. The trio of tastes seem to dance on the tongue awakening the taste buds, before melting into what seems a sip of chilled chocolate coffee. The Multiberry may be less nuanced, blended with strong fruit flavors. The fresh straw, blue, black and raspberries explode with summery flavors, probably the most intense gelato we tasted. Also recommended are lemon and coconut, two of Giuliana’s faves.
This is her fabulous Second Act. After 30 years of owning a Hairdressing Academy, she 60 year old entrepreneur decided to return to her Italian roots and open a café, serving expresso, panini, and gelato. Unable to find an authentic gelato, she resorted to making her own. It proved to be such a hit that Guiliana soon packaged it for limited stores and restaurants. Now the brand is distributed in five northeast states. (Although Giuliana confided she was about to pull her it from some stores in Long Island because they didn’t keep freezer temperatures to her rigid standards.) Though Connecticut-based, this gem of a gelato is not easily found in Fairfield Country. We finally tracked it down at Ancona’s in Ridgefield, who carry an outstanding collection of gelatos and premium ice creams.
TALENTI. Is it the super packaging or superb taste that earns Talenti the title of America's Best Selling Gelato? Sure, there's the clear plastic screw top jar (rather than paper tub), that shows off the natural color of the gelato flavors inside. But America's Got Talenti not for its look, but its taste -- like the Sicilian Pistachio, studded with roasted nuts imported from Italy. Probably the most classic of all gelatos, Pistachio flavor doesn't overpower the taste of the gelato itself, which.in this case was fresh, pure, and not overly sweet. We also loved the refreshing Caribbean Coconut, flecked with nuts imported from the Philippines. It's light, refreshing, and cleanses the palate, especially nice after a spicy meal. Far more complex and decadent is White Chocolate Raspberry. Its dense base, was rippled with crushed strawberries and notes of cinnamon, which perfectly accented the lush chocolate.
Talenti uses natural and raw ingredients, sourced from around the world. The milk is hormone free and local, chocolates come from Belgiam, fresh whole Tahitian vanilla beans are imported from Papua New Guinea, and Argentine dulce de leche is used for their signature gelato. Like Fiasco, Talenti started in a scoop shop. It's now available in frozen dessert aisles everywhere. As for those screw cap jars, though not as biodegradable as cartons, they can be reused as a container for nails, candies, or other do-dads around the house. Unfortunately, not dishwasher or microwave safe.