Aside from all the pasta I ate when in Bologna last week, I also consumed a large amount of gelato. The temperatures most days were around 90-ish degrees (30+ in Centigrade). My pasta class was quite intensive and physical and was held in a non-air conditioned environment. My hotel also did not have AC other than in the lobby. With a humid, sticky atmosphere both outside and in wherever I seemed to go, this was the perfect excuse to eat ice cream for dinner.
Before I left, I had done some research on the topic of where to find the best gelato in town. There were several lists from which to draw, plus I had some recommendations from people whom I met while there. What is really interesting, as one of my Italian classmates agreed with as well, is that when I lived and studied in Bologna many years ago, it wasn’t particularly known as having great entries in this food category. Pasta, yes, Lasagna, yes, other great dishes, yes, but gelato, while good varieties could be found in several neighborhoods, wasn’t really considered the city’s strong suit.
Oh, how times have changed! There were so many great flavors and combinations to try. I limited myself to a two or three scoop sample at each place and, in general, steered clear of all fruit versions or completely chocolate, with one exception. For my first cone, I decided that the local branch of Grom would be my “gateway gelato.” On occasion, I treat myself to one of their scoops at one of their stores in New York, so I thought that they would be a good benchmark for my mission in Italy. The Sea Salt Caramel was creamy and light on the caramel taste. I didn’t really pick up a good hit of salt in it. The Ricotta with Almonds (the September flavor when I was there) was rich and nutty tasting due to the ricotta. The almonds were meaty and, I think, toasted which gave its flavor a bit more complexity.
For the next stop on my tour, I didn’t have to go far from my hotel. Gelateria Gianni was about half a block away. They make their gelato using milk from the cows in the region around Bologna. Like many of the places I sampled, they make all their products in-house with the highest quality ingredients available in Italy and also from around the world. What is special about their creations is that they have traditional flavors as well as some unique special blends. How about a little Inferno (Hell) for a steamy afternoon? This white chocolate, cherry, wafer combination was one of my choices above. Or Il Sole (Sun) creamy orange gelato, with chocolate and candied Sicilian almonds, which was probably my favorite of the two. Even the man behind the desk at the hotel said that he indulges in them “ogni tanto” (sometimes).
Around the corner from the school I attended then worked at in Bologna is a gelateria that has received lots of buzz for using organic ingredients and for creating some more unusual flavors with them. One of my former co-workers, a native Bolognese, recommended that I stop by Il Gelatauro after our meeting as well. Knowing her culinary credentials, I figured that she would not steer me in the wrong direction. I have to say that the Smoked Green Tea (The’ Verde Affumicato) scoop wasn’t quite my cuppa. I prefer the taste of the version from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory instead and found this one to have an almost acrid backnote. Their Ginger (Zenzero) flavor was more up my alley with a creamy, zingy profile that worked well with my other choice Pumpkin and Cinnamon (Zucca e Cannella). I’ve long been a fan of pumpkin ice cream, and they pulled it off perfectly.
While on my way to dinner on Saturday, the day I arrived in town, I passed by Cremeria Sette Chiese. They had a gorgeous display of ice cream bars as well as large tubs of inviting flavors of gelato. When I met one of the owners/chef, he had just come out from the “laboratorio” in the back part of the store, as they make everything on location. I tried the Caramel version from here and found it to be all right. What really grabbed my tastebuds, however, was the Peccato al Gola (which my on-line translator says means “Gluttony”) with a creamy base supporting the sweet red swirls of local Amarena cherries and ribbons of rich dark chocolate. Oh my. He said he’d like to bring his gelato to New York. With flavors this delicious, I’d definitely queue up for it.
On the way back from pasta class one afternoon, I decided that I’d check out a place that I’d heard some raves about. Stefino isn’t a typical shop in that they sell from a window where their selections are displayed rather than customers going into a store to see all the choices. I heard a few other English voices ordering as well, so I have a feeling that this one has been making the rounds on a few lists. I had the Caribe (Caribbean) with the fragrance of rum and vanilla. My other selection was the Mediterraneo (Mediterranean) with pistachios, almonds, and pine nuts. Both of them were creamy, cool, and refreshing.
Not far from where I used to live is another place about which I’d heard lots of positive things. La Sorbetteria Castiglione has a wide range of ice cream confections, including some beautiful cakes that would be a welcome addition to any dinner. This time, I decided to sample the Amaro Extra (Dark Chocolate) on the advice of one of my fellow pasta class participants. The reason I don’t usually go for chocolate gelato is that I find it to be a bit gritty, as this one was on my tongue. As another classmate explained, this is generally because cocoa powder is used instead of processed chocolate to make it. I don’t know if that is true, but the texture didn’t make it work for me. On the other hand, the Cremino Guglielmo with mascarpone, espresso, and raw chocolate pieces was perfectly blended and tasty. The hit for me, however, was the Dolce Emma which combined creamy ricotta gelato with sweet-sticky caramelized figs and zesty lemon peel.
Back towards the university district I found Gelateria delle Moline with tables full of students taking an afternoon break. Once I made my way up to the front of the line to pick my flavors, I opted for a scoop of cool and lively Fior di Latte con Mirtilli (blueberries wrapped up in milky creaminess) and rich Delizia di Croccante (a vanilla base with chocolate and crunchy bits). Both of these were worthy entries in the giro di gelato that I was undertaking.
The cone in the photo above looks very sad, but I assure you it was completely and wonderfully delicious. I’d seen Cremeria Funivia mentioned as the place to go for gelato in Bologna. Fortunately, they have a location not far from the center of town (in addition to one outside of the city’s ring road) so I could fit it into my errands. It was hard to choose, but I got a scoop of the Cassata Siciliana which was like having cannoli cream filling in ice cream form with chunks of dark chocolate and candied orange peel embedded in a creamy ricotta gelato. The definite winner for me was the bright pink Amarenata scoop, flavored with and colored by the local cherries. Candied nuts studded the gelato giving it an added boost. There were no tables to eat at outside the gelateria so I made my way to Piazza Maggiore (the main town square) to savor the gelato before it melted while sitting on the steps of the church located there.
Before my flight, I grabbed lunch at Tamburini, a well-known and well-loved stop for locally made pastas, cured meats, and cheese, as well as a spot to get a reasonably-priced hot lunch. On the way back to grab my bags, I walked by Venchi which was across the street. A chocolate and gelato place, I figured that I should at least try it out. They had some of the usual flavors plus a really deep, dark chocolate option. Instead, I went for the Tagliatelle al Vegetariano, a combination of vanilla with milk chocolate chunks and cherries in syrup in a waffle cone, which became a soupy mix in the heat.
So what was the end result of the tour? The Peccato al Gola from Cremeria Sette Chiese was in the lead before the Amarenata from Cremeria Funivia swooped in and took over. Another strong contender for best combination was the Zenzero and Zucca e Cannella from Il Gelatauro. It was not that difficult of a decision to make, in the end, despite the fact that all the gelati that I tried were tasty. It was the combination of top-quality ingredients, a great blend of taste and texture, and just amazing flavor throughout each and every bite that made the Amarenata a winner. You know, to really be sure, I think I might need to head back over there again to work my way through another round just to double-check that I didn’t miss something.