This summer I have set myself a little challenge. After working on becoming an all-around better person, I am in search of the best ice cream in Italy. This is noble stuff. I swear it... Because it is an undisputed fact that the Italian gelato is the best ice cream on the planet, my selection of top gelato could easily serve as the standard for best ice cream on earth.
As well as this being righteous cause, this is a scientific endeavor. I have chosen as my control the pistacchio/caffe double scoop. This combo is a classic. Every gelato stand on the Boot makes both varieties, but no two are the same. Trust me. I have years experience measuring the subtleties. (Italy, I would dare say, is lucky to have an expert like me on the case). Secondly, I have thought long and hard about the categories for judgement. There must be both subjective and objective criterion.
First, the objective criterion: A) price. Any cone over 2 euros is disqualified. b) heft. The pre-lick size of the ice cream (the part showing above the cone) must exceed the size of my fist. Any less, and it's goner. For any of you familiar with Italian politics, flashing the wrong fist in a town is grounds for a lynching. Remember: it's left fist in Communist Perugia, for example. Right fist in fascist Veneto. Left, Perugia. Right, Veneto. Capite?
Now, for the subjective. Taste. It must be a clear stand-out for the ol' taste buds. But how can such a thing be judged? Well, to paraphrase the U.S. Supreme Court, you'll know it when you taste it... Not convinced? Here's the brilliance of my plan. Pistacchio and caffe, at the best gelato stands, are chock full of pistacchios and candied coffee beans, respectively. The proper quantity is crucial. You don't want to chomp down on a bean with every lick, just as you don't want to go through half the scoop without something to crunch down upon. The nuts and beans, therefore, must be evenly spaced throughout the scoops to have a contender. Along with the bean and nut ratio, are the mainstays: the proper creamyness and sweetness. So, in essence, taste, while subjective, is the most scientific of the criterion. Call it gelato logic.
Now, for an early peek at the leader board. After 6 weeks (summer began early here), there are two contenders. The first is a bit of a dark horse. Hailing from the quaint seaside town of Vasto (in Abruzzo) is a Sicilian gelato stand alongside the town's cathedral. Creamy, scored high on the nuts/bean ratio, the scoop was mammoth and cost 1.80 euros. Let's hear it for the Abruzzesi! Vasto is competing with Monte Verde's own Tony (our local guy here in Rome). Tony (pronounced DOE-nee) is a Monte Verde treasure. His little stand is always teeming with locals. Cars are double- and triple-parked out front. Grown men elbow little girls to get their order in first. It's a madhouse (one time Cristina walked out with a carton of Tony's finest under one arm and a set of dishes, a door prize for being the most superlative customer in a Tony-defined time slot, under the other), and worth every maddening moment. His gelato is that good! I would nominate Tony for an EU award, but recognition only from the EU would be an insult. Anyhow, anyhow, I digress. It's an even race between Tony and the Abruzzesi.
The Rules: As luck would have it, I will be crossing a representative stretch of the country, sampling the best pistacchio/caffe a region has on offer. I will report my winner in late Sept. Check back here for the random update. If anybody has any special gelato stands they think I should consider, please let me know. In the interest of science, there will be no cone left behind.
Wish me luck!