The first thing I thought of when I heard “Gelatissimo” was that with a name like this, the place must be authentic. I was not disappointed in learning more about this delightful spot in downtown New Canaan when I met with its owners Andrea and Nuccia.
In Italian, Gelatissimo means very gelato; the supprelative “issimo” is used to exalt a description from standard to the very most, this is something I love about the Italian language, that things can be highlighted, made bigger, tastier or more beautiful - or just the opposite- by adding this sort of supprelative. “Issimo” is reserved for the very most and who doesn’t want more gelato!?
Here, Nuccia and Andrea have done the very best in gelato; their cheery interior is consistently buzzing with happy customers-several appear to be regulars while others are venturing in for the first, but not last time.
I am amazed by the variety of flavors available- 60 varieties (albeit not at once) according to the season and availability of the best ingredients available. I scan the displays for my favorites and dance a little when I see “nocciola” (hazelnut)-I should probably be more adventurous but it’s my opinion that good gelato has to pass my flavor test with the more “common” or expected flavors; vaniglia (vanilla), choccolata, fragola (strawberry) pistachio and nocciola are amongst the more common ones, but there are plenty more.
Andrea and Nuccia source local ingredients as much as possible from neighboring NY and CT, while other ingredients known to Italy are imported; i.e. almond paste, blood oranges, and pistachios.
Lemon and jasmine are also popular Sicilian flavors and whenever not locally available these items are brought in. Naturally this adds to the cost of making gelato but it is also the crux behind its amazing taste. Not skimping on the best ingredients means fresh fruits, no colors, additives or preservatives- nothing is premade-the couple clocks in some early hours-gelato maker hours.
There are about 22 flavors in summer rotating over the season to about 60 flavors overall including many holiday ice cream with an American touch; pumpkin for fall and peppermint in the winter.
Some exotic flavors like prickly pear, pineapple, mango, lampone (blackberry) are really interesting and I love pairing them with vanilla to complement the flavor but really, they are all amazing. In the savory category there is olive oil, mint and rosemary of all things.
I'm offered to try the rosemarino (rosemary)-hmm should be interesting- I can t say I have ever seen rosemary gelato no less tried any. How can this be done? Really interesting, unexpected and seriously good-I thought I detected some mint but no-just pure rosemary-its elegant-exotic in a way but Italian exotic-because again, its icy melty, not over the top rosemary –its in the after taste more so that you start to think how can this be rosemary!? All ideas of rosemary in a savory way are deleted, no lamb or rotisserie chicken comes to mind here. In Italy rosemary grows wild and in bushes. I am reminded of a home I stayed in whose garden had rosemary bushes as hedges. Rosemary is a new gal here-she is rosemary-issimo. Beautiful and delicate, elegant and original.
I am ecstatic to learn that gelato is actually lower in fat than our American counterpart ice cream. Maybe I knew this at some point, but I feel much better when I consider how much gelato I’ve consumed in my lifetime and feel better knowing this is actually a healthier option. It is!
Gelato has less emulsifiers (fats) than ice cream and the absence of which renders it silky and soft in the mouth, at times tasting like ice milk.
While the fat in ice cream acts a preservative, allowing it to freeze well indefinitely, the lack of fat in gelato does not make it freezable overtime-this is why it must be made daily for optimum taste and freshness, preserving the integrity and highlighting its ingredients.
Gelato is also mixed by hand, not at high speeds or machinery also rendering its beautiful soft texture. In fact I realize the nocciola in my mouth is creamy and light, like icey milky hazelnuts; not heavy or buttery but icy smooth.
The couple chose to open their shop in NC because they felt the town was well-rounded and international, with a community that would appreciate a gelato specialty shop.
Andrea is not new to the food industry, having owned several restaurants in Westchester prior to opening Gelatissimo in 2005. The recipes and methods for making gelato were passed down to him by his father. While this has a romantic and nostalgic tone, Andrea points out that really there is no ‘secret’ to his gelato-just that the best ingredients go into making it fresh daily-and that if, secret , is the honest answer to why their gelato is so fantastic!
They have a charming gelato cart that can be rented for private parties, weddings and corporate functions and have done events in conjunction with the NC nature center, the towns’ Holiday stroll and summer sidewalk sales. The shop also makes gelato cakes (GREAT idea), hot chocolate, various coffees, crepes and cheese plates. They are open 7 days a week May through October and in fall/winter they are closed Mondays.
The couple may open another store but for now are quite happy where they are.
They love New Canaan for being a family oriented town and in part it was their sense of family and routine that sparked their interest in opening shop. The couple are both from Italy and have been in the US for years but soon realized one of the things they missed dearly about Italy at times, were the more subtle things characteristic of the culture; something as simple as taking a passegiata; an evening stroll before or after dinner, going to get a gelato and walking…similar to sitting in the middle of a piazza, having a coffee –something quintessentially Italian (if not European).
You would think business slows down in the fall and winter months but apparently they have experienced a steady flow of gelato apassionatos who look forward to strolling for gelato themselves. Interesting point is how much the gastronomical interest in Italy has really exploded, it’s now an entire industry with specialty meccas much more available than they were just ten years ago. I recall my uncle requesting packages sent to him from AA until soon enough a specialty shop opened up in his small Floridian town. We spoke on this point for some time and were both happy that the food culture of Italy has gained such a following by a vaster audience.
I found talking to them really gave me a connection to Italy for an afternoon. More availability of the Italian products has allowed it to become more available to more people completely charmed by this great couple and their devotion to gelato, their love for Italy, hard work and ability to blend these values. They are ‘issimo’.