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Wayfaring chocolate with gelato

Because black and white is synonymous with artistic, right?

When I was in Florence a few months ago, I ate a lot of gelato from fantastic gelatarias. Almost every day, I would revel in its freshly-made-and-scooped-before-my-eyes creaminess whilst wandering around the city’s cobbled streets.

Regular readers will know, though, that while I do love me some artisan, fresh, made-with-love, and/or fancypants foods, I also adore supermarkets* and their aisles of long-life, artisan-copycat, often-cheaper edibles. I could deny this part of myself. I could create a blog-Hannah with a nose in the air and an eyebrow raised at anything with a factory-stamped use-by date.

But then who would warn you about Cadbury Toffee Crunch? And who would let you know that, in Florence’s Despar supermarkets, you can get some lovely gelato for a fraction of the cost, a multiplication of the quantity, and a whole lot less queuing than is de rigueur at upscale gelatarias?

Exactly. You deserve real-Hannah, not fake-created-Hannah. And this is what real-Hannah has to say about Italian supermarket gelato.

Desidezi alla Panna Cotta e Caramello

Desidezi alla Panna Cotta e Carmello

Yes, the photo above is of supermarket gelato, but I defy you to look me in the eyes and tell me it looks unappealing. (Vegan and lactose-intolerant stances aside.) The texture of this gelato was lighter, airier, and fluffier (I just said three words that mean the same thing… West Wing reference, anyone?) than its denser gelataria cousins, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Regardless, the cream and vanilla notes of the gelato, combined with the almost-burnt sweetness of its nut-flecked caramel sauce, was fan-diddly-tastic.

Florence Desidezi alla Panna Cotta e Caramello

I may have started by eating the Despar gelato like this...

Florence gelato Desidezi alla Panna Cotta e Caramello

But ten minutes later I decided to stop being silly and, so, got rid of the bowl. Ten minutes after that? All gone!

Desidezi al Pistacchio e Gianduia

Florence Gelato Desidezi al Pistacchio e Guianduia

Hmm, this photo suffers a tad from the vertical angle, doesn’t it?

Despar’s two-in-one pistachio and gianduja gelati were my least favourite, although each was pleasant enough. As I’ve said countless times, I (obviously) love chocolate but only in its pure form – give me  a few squares of the stuff over vaguely-chocolatey frozen cream any day. The pistachio ice cream was pleasant but equally as vague in flavour, as all I thought upon tasting it was “kinda nutty”, not “clearly pistachio”.

Desidezi al Limone di Sicilia

Florence Gelato Desidezi al Limone al Sicilia

Remember how I once said that zingy, lemon-y desserts are my pick? Well, I’m no liar. This gelato was absolutely and utterly my favourite of Despar’s, and I actually bought it three times during my time in Florence. Each time, I ate it in under half an hour. (That said, this is a direct tasting note quote from near the end of one such effort: “Okay, wow, this really is a lot of gelato… lotsy lotsy tangy sweet… must. power. on.”)

Florence Gelato Desidezi al Limone al Sicilia

This gelato epitomized my favourite aspect of a well-executed lemon dessert: the interplay of almost-too-tangy lemon with just enough sweetness to counter, without downplaying, the zinginess. This had an incredible depth of lemon juice (not peel – definitely not bitter peel) flavour, and was so wonderfully refreshing in its refusal to bow to the Sprite crowd. (I do not understand how Sprite is meant to be lemon-flavoured. I really don’t.)

And that’s my final word on the matter.

* Not just foreign ones, either. Prior to today, I’d already walked over to my local Coles twice this week to stock up on bits and bobs. Today, I told my housemate I was quickly popping over the road to get my new prescription filled out#. I came back an hour later. Yes, the housemate asked what on earth had taken so long. Yes, she rolled her eyes at me when I pulled Date and Caramel Scone Toast out of my shopping bag. I cannae help it, ma’am! The combination of “New!” and “Sale!” labels renders me powerless, even when attached to foodstuffs I wouldn’t normally glance at. (I’m not a bread/toast person at all. Seriously. I ate one baguette during my entire 3ish-week stint in Paris.)

# Thank heavens my doctor agrees that something really, really needs to be done about my year-long toe saga. You’d’ve thought two surgeries and enough antibiotics to turn my insides radioactive would be enough, but no. The current course of action involves blood pressure medication and at least three visits to the nurse this week. So, folks, if I start writing posts that seem even waftier than normal, it’s probably just because I’m feeling light-headed.

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Pear and Pistachio Gelato, Carabe

Dear Pistachio Gelato, I miss you.

Sometimes it feels wrong to be posting about Florence without simultaneously talking about gelato. Gelato was an integral part of my Italian experience, as most days involved  frozen delightfulness in one form or another.  My plan for the future is to remember posts such as this one recounting gelato highlights whenever I find myself journeying back to Florence and its sentient statues. If you also do this, then none of us will ever forget that Florence can, for all its varied cultural and historical hotspots and adventures, be evoked simply by the sensation of sweetness melting on the lips.

I feel better about posting ice-cream-less glimpses of Italy now, because I know that you’re all imagining liquorice gelato and meringue semifreddo at this precise moment. Right? Right?

View from Giotto's Campanile, Florence

Once upon a time, I climbed to the top of Giotto’s Campanile, the tower adjacent to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Wikipedia says there are 414 steps involved in such a feat, but I’m certain there were 782 steps. It just. kept. going.

In addition, the staircase was not only unending (hyperbole alert) but incredibly narrow, which meant that there was much pressing close to strangers in the manner of Sardines (the children’s game*, not the omega-3-rich fish).

View of Florence

Once atop the Campanile, there was a lot of Florence to look at. These are the types of photos that are usually interesting only to the person who took them, aren’t they? I do apologise. But you see, there really were a lot of stairs, so I had to take enough photos to justify the entry price and my new-found calves of steel.

Pig in guillotine, Florence

Oh no! Wilbur! Where’s the eight-legged friend who’ll save your bacon?! (Actually, perhaps the part of Charlotte’s Web most appropriate for a gelato-fuelled Florence trip is Templeton’s fairground song: “The faaaaair is a veeeeritable smorgasboard, orgasbord, orgasbord, aaaaafter the crowds have ceased... Melon rinds and bits of hot dogs, cookie crumbs and rotten cotton candy, melted ice cream, mustard drippings, mouldy goodies everywhere...” Except without the mould.

Riso Torty Limone

Rice *and* rice? Oh Florence, do stop! You’re spoiling me so. (I was almost going to proclaim these vegan, but alas! They contain eggs. Definitely dairy-free and gluten-free, though.)

There is something a bit odd about walking down a street and suddenly passing an entirely empty (read: unstaffed as well as un-customered) restaurant with nothing to spruik it except a huge slab of fresh meat on a wooden crate.

Crema Novi

But there is something utterly irresistible about an open jar of Crema Novi, the chocolate hazelnut spread that is to Nutella what sun-ripened cherry tomatoes fresh off the bush are to mealy supermarket tomatoes fresh out of cold storage. I wish this grew on trees.

* Dear me, I haven’t thought about that game in years and years. Super fun times indeed. For those of you who don’t know it, Sardines is a reverse hide-and-seek. One person is “it” and has to hide while everyone else looks for him/her. As people find the hiding person, they have to cram into the hiding space too, until it becomes pretty darn obvious where the hiding space is**.

** I don’t think this game would work very well in my new Tiny Unit Of Smurf Kitchen. Someone would hide in the shower, then someone would hide in my wardrobe, and then we’d be out of options.

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So far in my Florence travel recaps, I’ve shown you some slightly disappointing gelato from Festival del Gelato and some far better gelato and granita from Carabe.

Surely, though, you must have known the gelato adventures didn’t stop there. Now, for a bit of a disclaimer, the following doesn’t cover every gelato adventure I had – just a few top picks. For example, I decided not to take pictures of every pistachio gelato I tried in my quest for The Ultimate Pistachio Gelato, as there’s a limit to how interesting one can make endless shots of pale-green-brown substances look. (Mmmm, pale-green-brown substances.) But just so you know, my personal favourite pistachio gelato was from Il Gelato Vivoli.

Without further ado, here are a few worthy-of-acclamation gelati that I did photograph. (What, you don’t clap with glee when you find delicious eats?)

Grom

Grom Gelateria, Florence

Grom seems to have a store in New York, beloved American readers! However, I think I prefer to keep my gelato as a strictly-Italian experience.

As I arrived in Florence at the end of March and left in early April, I was lucky enough to catch Grom’s March and April flavours. Each month, Grom changes its line-up of gelato flavours, as well as offering a “Flavour of the Month” for those who like novelty.

Of course, being a newbie to Florence and gelato, it was all a novelty for me. Nonetheless, I did try Grom’s March Flavour of the Month, the Te Verde e Cioccolato Bianco.

Grom Gelato, Florence, Firenze

I didn't lie to you, I promise. The one on the left is green tea with white chocolate, not pistachio.

I very much enjoyed both these flavours. The green tea was smooth and sweet with a subtle bitterness peeking through at the end. To be honest, I didn’t think the white chocolate added much to the experience (freezing chocolate limits the amount of flavour it can convey – there’s a reason why chocolate should be stored and eaten at 16-18 degrees Celsius!), but the green tea gelato itself was good enough to hold the combination aloft in awesomeness.

For my second flavour I chose Grom’s Pera Frutta, a sorbet. I wanted to compare it to Carabe’s pear gelato, as that had been a pleasant shock to the system.

Grom Pera Frutta, Florence

Slightly darker in colour than Carabe's pear gelato... but what of the taste?

I’m sorry, Carabe, but Grom’s pear sorbet beat you at your own game. I don’t take back what I said about Carabe’s pear gelato tasting of the essence of pear, but somehow Grom’s was even more to-the-pear-point. It even had that slightly bitter taste one finds in the skin or near the core of a beurre bosc pear (does anyone else eat the cores of apples and pears? *waves hand in air*). Wonderful.

When April came, I returned to Grom, and found myself ordering a flavour I never would have thought to before these travels commenced. See, travelling changes a person!

Grom Gelato Florence, liquirizia

Mmm, mixed-dirt-cement flavour gelato. Best ever. Or, you know, liquirizia.

I threw caution to the wind here and, on the back of my pleasurable licorice macaron experience, ordered Grom’s licorice gelato.

Readers, it was amazing. However, this amazingness was partly due to the fact that it didn’t taste anything like how I expect licorice to taste. There was something slightly herbal, but not, something slightly dark (can dark be a flavour? I think so), but not, and it had these rich sweet waves of fleeting and shifting flavour notes that kept me coming back for more.

There was, of course, the other flavour too, but it made me put on my sad face.

Grom Fragola Strawberry Gelato, Florence.

Fragola - strawberry sorbet. This tasted like strawberry-flavoured lollies, not like real strawberries. Such a contrast with the pear sorbet, but you live and you learn, right? And if you like super-sweet strawberry candy, I'm sure this would be much-loved.

Lastly, I’ll show you a couple of flavours from another highly-recommended gelateria, Il Gelato Vivoli (the place of the best pistachio).

Il Gelato Vivoli

Gelateria Vivoli

Ah well, at least he wasn't smoking near the gelato.

In retrospect, I think one of the flavours I tried here was actually a semifreddo, not a gelato. It was very soft and whipped-cream-like in texture, and was in a different part of the cabinet to the other gelati. No worries, though, it was brilliant!

Il Gelato Vivoli

On the left: Mela. On the right: Meringa.

Let’s get the overshadowed flavour out of the way first, yes? Mela was a green apple sorbet, and had a delightful sweet-sour zinginess that at times tended towards lolly-sweetness but was saved by flecks of real apple skin. Nice.

BUT.

The Meringa, which was a light-and-fluffy sweet cream ice cream with chunks of meringue and dark chocolate, was beautiful. It was like the best [fruitless] pavlova in ice cream form, with each dissolving-crunch of meringue, each airy wisp of sweet gelato, each speckle of dark chocolate (chocolate worked here, surprisingly) contributing to the fun.

Il Gelato Vivoli, meringa gelato

Half-eaten. Half-melted. Still divine.

Now what was that I was saying about needing an ice-cream maker?

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I’m currently torn between the fear of forgetting what happens in my days (this leads me to want to post travel stories constantly) and the fear of losing all my readers when I get back to normal non-travelling life in Canberra (this leads me to want to hoard my travel stories). Today, I seem to have been led to do both, so here’s a bit about my day and a chocolate!

Part A: Overview of Florence, Day 2

Waking up to a beautiful sunny day in Florence, I decided to make my way over to see an equally beautiful man. No, not Ronaldo. I’m talking about this fellow:

Actually, not quite. This is the copy of David at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, where the original originally stood. After it's origination.

On the way to the Galleria dell’Accademia, though, I came across the Museo di San Marco. Why not? I thought to myself. Housed in an old Dominican monastery from the 15th century, the San Marco Museum is… well, um… not really very good. However, caveat – if you like endless paintings of Jesus on the Cross, go for it. Personally, I like my art with a dose of human warmth and emotion, not with blood spurting from chest wounds and endless repetition.

Seeing as it was a nice day, though, and I’d paid my entry fee, I enjoyed a pleasant hour reading my Sookie Stackhouse book in the museum’s courtyard.

(There is something a bit awkward about reading a sex scene in an old monastery, particularly when also surrounded by an Italian tour group of women in their 60s and 70s.)

Museo di San Marco. At least it looked nice.

After this, I was quite lucky and only had to wait half an hour in line to see the David. And you know what? Amazing. I was expecting seeing him to be like seeing the Mona Lisa – something I did because everyone told me to, therefore something I went into poutingly and something that, as expected, I didn’t care for.

But Michelangelo’s David is stunning, and huge, and perfect, and rather yummy.

So was this:

Gelato, Gelateria Carabe

Winner winner! Sorry that this photo lacks depth, or the ability to showcase depth, but I wanted you to be able to see the flecks in the gelato on the right.

After some dedicated google-researching this morning, I have a hefty list of recommended gelaterias to visit. One such was Carabe, a small gelateria just down the road from (the real) David… really, what was I supposed to do?

This whooped the Festival del Gelato gelato’s tookus.

I got pistachio (on the left), which was buttery, dense, and rich, with real pistachio flavour (none of this almond extract business) and no fluoro-green food colouring. The one on the right, though, was a revelation. I’m not usually big on fruit-flavoured things, but this pear gelato tasted like pure ground-up pears, their essence, distilled. So true, so sweet, so refreshing. Hold me back, I feel there’s almost an haiku there. Must resist urge.

In a fight to the death with the following chocolate, I think the pear gelato would win.

Part B: Sainsbury’s Sao Tome Dark Chocolate

Sainsbury's Sao Tome Dark Chocolate

"Sao Tome... really dark... intense flavour". We'll see about that.

Gosh, it feels like an age since I’ve done a straight-up chocolate review. And it has been an age since I had this; it was eaten way back in Liverpool, in early February.

Sainsbury’s is a supermarket chain in England, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect from its own-brand chocolate. Unfortunately, while it was quite good for what it was, it fell into the same trap as the San Marco Museum. Just not my thing.

The aroma was very fruity, with strong raisin notes. The flavour was similarly very strong on fruit, but in the tangy, almost-sour red berry fruit way that I don’t love. In fact, this tasted a lot like red wine to me, and I just can’t do shiraz, or merlot, or what have you. (Rose is good. Oh fiddlesticks, I have Prosecco in the fridge! Silly forgetful head.)

Sainsbury's Sao Tome Dark Chocolate.

Well done, camera. You do work better when you have light to work with, don't you?

I also got burnt acidic coffee, hay, and goats cheese from this, but all in an unpleasant-tempered-by-red-wine way. At the same time, I feel bad being so disparaging, because I do feel that someone who likes red/tangy chocolate would like this.

Just, you know, not me. Too fruity. For chocolate, that is. I prefer my fruitiness to remain in my gelato.

Buona Notte!

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So, I’m really terrible at chronology. I’m going to try to date my Paris posts, as I did the last, so that this blog makes some sort of sense as to where I am and have been (and when). I absolutely intend to keep blogging about Paris, but I’m posting this tonight because it’s all very fresh in my mind…

I was incredibly anxious yesterday about making my overnight train from Paris to Florence. This was partly because the forecast was for rain, partly because I wanted to stop by a supermarket on the way to the station, and partly because I can be a bit ridiculous when I’m not in control of situations.

To deal with this anxiety, I left my hostel at 3:30pm (first off, it was sunny), went to the supermarket, easily made my metro change at Pyramides, and arrived at the Paris Bercy train station at 4:40pm.

My train left at 6:52pm. Yep, I was a bit of a nincompoop. Luckily, one of my purchases at the supermarket had been the chocolate version of my beloved chestnut fondant, and at the hostel I chanced upon the exact Sookie Stackhouse book I’m up to reading (I make no apologies for this choice. One needs fun reads when travelling), so the two hours passed without too much trouble.

Foot foot foot. Chocolate chocolate chocolate. I know which I prefer.

My sleeper cabin consisted of very little space and six bunkbeds, three on each wall, but thankfully there were only four of us in the itty-bitty living space. I ended up bursting into not-well-hidden giggles several times during the evening/night, so much so that I once wondered if my companions thought I was sobbing to myself in bed.

See, it was just so strange. My three roomies (bunkies?) were middle-aged Italian men who spoke no English, and half the time I had no idea what was going on. Also, one of these men did nothing, all night. He had no books, no music, no nothing. He just sat there. Often staring at me and my computer/book/food/iPod. What can I say – I come prepared.

Also, I know that at one point they were laughing at the amount of chocolate I was eating (there was pointing and gesturing involved), but I do wonder what they made of the fact that, after all my chocolate, I pulled out a bag of raw broccoli, then a packet of curry-flavoured tofu patties, then a packet of pre-cooked lentils.

I bet they were just jealous.

Still, the 13 hours passed eventually, and what could I expect upon my arrival but an immediate adventure in Florence?

My hostel was quite tricky to find and, once found, turned out not to be my hostel anymore. I’d been switched to another about ten minutes further away. The hostel fellow said he’d walk me there, and after a bit of awkwardness we latched onto the universal language of food and started talking gelato. (It’s lovely how often food unites people – and equally as bizarre, to me, to meet people bored by the topic.)

I absolutely believe it was this food-chatting that led Ronaldo, from the Dominican Republic, who loves Nutella and Mango gelato, to treat me to a cappuccino at a little Italian bar. He also wanted to buy me a pastry, but I felt a bit guilty, so opted for a kinder chocolate. (Amber, you’ll be excited about more than that in this post, I promise you).

Ronaldo pointed out that the foam was in the shape of a heart. I had actually been thinking hoof.

This was, without a doubt, the smoothest, nuttiest, creamiest cappuccino I’ve ever had. It also, combined with my tiredness and normal-decaf-ness, made me feel quite jittery and sick for a few hours. But it was goooood.

Ronaldo then told me to meet him at noon for gelato, and while at first I wasn’t sure, I was told by the girl at the second hostel that he’s just a friendly guy with a girlfriend, so I went for it.

I mean, you can’t pass up inside-knowledge about a good gelato joint, can you?

My bad; my joy overwhelmed the camera and made everything around me glow and be blurry.

In this photo, the gelato looks rather small, but I assure you it was not. I got three flavours (out of dozens), and it was packed in there – almost too much for me. Almost.

Do ya wanna know what I got? Do ya, punk?

Well, it was from Festival Del Gelato, so it was a festival in my mouth. I got Mora (blackberry), Maron Glace (chestnut), and Yoghurt Nutella. I also tried Mango, Nocciola (hazelnut), and what I think was Amaretto-Cherry, because Ronaldo just kinda shoved his cone at me. (His ice-cream cone, people. Sheesh.)

If I’m absolutely honest, the blackberry and chestnut gelatos were rather disappointing. But the yoghurt nutella was fantabulous, and you better believe I’ll be scouting out other gelaterias and flavours over the coming week.

Try as you might to tempt me with your flavours, Festival Del Gelato - I'm a woman on a mission, and this woman's mission is to track down Grom.

There was one other thing that confused me, though. For a man with a supposed girlfriend, Ronaldo was quite into touching my back, and held onto my camera twice after taking photos of me to discuss how beautiful he thought my smile was.

So when he asked me to dinner tomorrow night, I was a bit ambiguous in my response.

You know what this means, though? Amber was right. Apparently, Florence is all about the art, churches, gelato, and, erm, friendly men…

P.S. I promise I’ll do a short and/or photo-centric post tomorrow. I already fear I’m scaring people away with all these lengthy posts.

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