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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I scream, you scream, we all scream for GELATO!

Henry James said, "Summer afternoon, summer afternoon, to me those have always been the two most beautiful words....." and I'd have to agree with him. Except when it's the middle of July in the Midwest, the actual temperature is 93 degrees, the humidity is 87%, and the "heat index" is clocking in at 103 degrees. That's in the shade. So, at present, my two most favorite words are "ice cream". Better known as "gelato" in Italy.

Large Italian cities have several "gelaterie" and almost all smaller villages have at least one. In Florence, which is thought to be the gelato capital of Italy, my favorite place is "Vivoli". I have personally eaten close to 50 gallons of their "caffe" flavor. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating, but given enough time and opportunity, I could do it. Because it is, as they say, to die for. And, no matter how fast I have consumed this delicious treat, I have never suffered the dreaded "brain freeze" ice cream headache.

If you're not familiar with Vivoli, you may walk right past it. It's located on a winding, very short street with only a small neon sign above the door. If you're lucky, you may see the usual group of locals out front scooping gelato into their mouths and then you might notice the shop.

According to my Tuscan friends, the weather there this week has been hotter than ours with temps hovering around 100 degrees. That's out in the Chianti countryside. It's probably 10 degrees warmer in Florence. Those massive ancient buildings radiate pure heat energy.

Inside Vivoli the space is cramped. There is no air conditioning. Makes you want the cold yummie stuff even more. You pay the cashier who is never located in the same place behind the counter (no matter how many times I've been in there), then you take the receipt to the area where you pick out your flavor(s). There are no cones at Vivoli, only cups. However, the Vivoli guys have been giving out "samples" before the 33-flavors guys were born, so you can stand there and taste everything. If you can handle the evil eye you'll get after the 6th request.....

One thing flaunted by Vivoli is that they sell only the flavors of gelato that they have made that day. Everything is fresh and the flavors change frequently. As I mentioned previously, I have no problem with choosing flavors because I'm addicted to the wonderful coffee gelato - "caffe". But I have tasted many many (okay, so only six at one time) delightful concoctions. Such as, "pera con caramello" - pear with caramel and "riso", which is rice gelato. I must admit on the rare occasion, I have teamed a scoop of caffe with a scoop of riso. Ooohhh, to die for.

If you are overwhelmed with the flavor selection, ask for the expert opinion behind the counter. They are more than happy to suggest something. However, be aware, because I have noticed some strange pairings - "mela verde" (green apple) and "menta" (mint) for one. I suspect that the counter guys may be toying with us.

Needless to say, there's no combination I like better than eating handmade gelato in Florence. Well, unless its eating handmade gelato in Radda, my favorite village. I am a connoisseur of savoring both.

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