Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Gelato Challenge in Florence, Italy

The colorful displays of gelato are ubiquitous in Florence!

This probably doesn't seem like much of a challenge to many of you...
but trust me, it is and was!
A dream come true! Having an entire month to stay in Florence and go to art school! Florence is a beautiful city that's full of rich history, breathtaking views, famous art, fabulous fashion and wonderful meals. I knew that it wouldn't be hard to have my senses enriched with all of the wonder Florence has to offer.
If Florence isn't inspiring enough, I thought that while I was there I would give myself some kind of goal. Something I could get inspired to write about or photograph. At first, I wasn't quite sure what the goal would be other than to go to a Sculpture Art Course at The Florence Academy of Art. I thought perhaps I would make it a goal to walk to and from school everyday, 20 minutes each way, no matter how hot or tired I would be. This I made good on, which was not particularly easy to do after pulling 12-14 hours a day at the sculpture studio. It was also beyond hot...record heat in fact...and humid! I joked in one my journal entries that it was so hot that I thought I may have sweated out of my personalities!

 "JOURNAL ENTRY: Florence ~ DAY 3: Record high temperatures hit Florence. Walking to class in the morning is wonderful at 8:30am. I passed by the Dante Sculpture outside of the Church of Santa Croce and never take a second of these morning walk for granted. Sometime after lunch, delirium sets in, and a glazed look replaces the previously worn cappuccino-enhanced expression I had on my face. In the afternoon, the walk back home makes me wish I could transport myself Bewitched style, with a twitch of my nose. Mind you, I don't DO hot weather. Note to self: The "last few pounds" I thought I wanted to lose...it was only water. I think I sweat out one of my personalities! It may have been one that I liked too!"

On July 5th, after being in Florence for six days, I went to a neighborhood gelateria for a gelato with one of my classmates. Looking down into the colorful case of gelato flavors, I decided to do something at the last second before I ordered my usual...Lemon Sorbet. I decided to order something I would never think to choose in the past. Not certain as to what came over me, especially being a bit of a monogamist when it comes to my gelato eating, I decided to jump out of my comfort zone and go with a chunky Straccitella and Cioccolato combination. This is when I got inspired!

I would challenge myself to eating gelato
in a city that is known for their gelato!

1) I must order a different flavor of gelato or sorbetto* each day.
2) I mustn't order Sorbetto di Limone (Lemon Sorbet).
3) Try every flavor that one particular shop around the corner had during the month that I was staying in Florence. 
4) I must go outside of my comfort zone, meaning that I must try flavors that have chunks, and bits of stuff in the gelato, like nuts and gooey stuff. This, in itself, was a challenge as I'm not one to have any bits or chunks taking up space where gelato could be.

*NOTE: The Fruit Flavors are Sorbetti (Sorbets). They are allowed to act on behalf of gelato in this challenge. Technically, these aren’t really considered gelati (gelato in the singular) – instead, they’re sorbetti (sorbetto in the singular) because they’re made without milk. The fruit flavors are some of my favorites ~ they’re so fresh and intense, like you are eating the real fruit but even tastier!


July 5 ~  Cioccolato and Stracciatella
A nice creamy Chocolate flavor to go with Stracciatella, which is the Italian gelato equivalent of chocolate chip ice cream. It’s a subtle, creamy milk and sugar based gelato with chocolate bits in it.
I know, kind of normal, but remember, I'm a lemon lover!

July 6 ~ Caffè (Coffee) and Malaga (Rum Raisin)
I went outside of the box to have the Malaga gelato seeing that I'm not a big fan of bits of raisins taking up space! The Caffè gelato was richly made with real espresso, giving me a little wake-up boost for the morning.  Oh yes, this was how I started my day. My friend from class and I took our gelati to the little cafè bar next door. We stood there with all of the old men at the bar and finished our cones of gelati...washing it down with a caffeine-packed iced espresso.
This was my kind of breakfast of champions!

July 7 ~ Sorbetto di Mango and Cocco Gelato
This was a nice combination of flavors...Mango and Coconut! I felt a bit like I was in Hawaii, which was a nice break for my taste buds after eating Mediterranean food as a main staple for over a year and a half. 
Note to self: Put 'Visit a Tropical Destination Soon' on Bucket List.

 July 9 ~ Melone and Banana
Oh my, Melone tasted just like a cold cantaloupe that was perfectly ripened, and the Banana was rich and tasty! There was no cream in either of these flavors so it was 100% fresh fruit in flavor. I'm going with a "Yum!" here! 

 July 9 ~ Sorbetto di Limone con Vodka (Lemon Sorbet with Vodka)
Okay, I failed miserably here at Rule #2! But, did you read 'Vodka'!? Okay, I wasn't going to pass this up on the dolce menu. It was this or Tiramisu, and I wasn't going to eat espresso powder after 10:00pm on a school night! Also, notice that was a second sorbetto in one day, starting with the Melone and Banana...or should I say fifth scoop! No one said this challenge was going to be easy!
;) wink-wink, nudge-nudge

July 10 ~ Cioccolato Fondente (Dark Chocolate) and Mente (Mint)
Okay all of you chocolate lovers, this is the flavor you are looking for.
Rich deep chocolatey goodness that is nothing shy of ahh-mazing!
The mint flavor here wasn't exactly what I was hoping for. It had that fake mint flavor like an Andes Mint. I threw myself on the sword though and had to at least try it. I made up for it later this evening...

 July 10 ~ Cioccolato Fondente (again!!) and Ricotta con Pera (Ricotta and Pear)
Since I had a half-gelato reject flavor this morning, I thought I would make up for it by trying another flavor in the evening. This time I went across the Arno River to Gelateria La Carraia. They are rated #10 in 1,183 "restaurants" in Trip Advisor! They had Cioccolato Fondente there, and since I knew I would be able to order that again after today (See Rule #1), I thought I would get that again (tough, I know) and pair it with Ricotta con Pera. I thought I had died and gone to gelato heaven! I am a forever-changed gelato eater! What was I thinking sticking to Lemon Sorbet so much of the time? Not anymore!
I hardly felt bad about eating 4 more scoops of gelato after I ate five scoops just the day before. Besides, I was keeping up with my daily walking challenge and my Sculpture Class "Boot Camp" Diet. That's where you are sculpting so many hours in the day, at least 10, that you skip meals.
I had to get my protein somehow, right!?


 July 16 ~ Abbicotte (Apricot), Fico (Fig) and Creme d'Arancio (Orange Creme)
Six whole days had gone by since my last gelato!
I wasn't kidding about the Sculpture Class "Boot Camp" Diet thing. I had sculpted anywhere from 12-14 hours a day in the last six days. I was too busy to have gelato, which hardly seems possible! This evening, I left class after only 10 hours of sculpting. I walked back to my Santa Croce neighborhood and thought of my gelato challenge. Just around the corner from my apartment is the famous Gelateria Vivoli. I had gone to Vivoli seventeen years ago and lived off of there Sorbetto di Limone for a week. It prides itself on only serving gelato flavors that they make there that day. Today's triple scoop was a home run! The freshest gelato I had to date! The Fig was out of this world! The Apricot and Orange Cream were subtle in flavor, not too sweet and totally delicious!
I would have to say that I could kick myself for not going back to try Vivoli's Mela Verde (Green Apple) sorbetto. I'll have to remember that the next time!

 July 19 ~ Passion Fruit and Frutti di Bosco (Mixed Berries)
Passion Fruit sorbetto should be called "The Hawaiian Lottery". It is the winner in the fresh fruit flavor department! The passion fruit itself has a lingering, tropical taste, somewhat like a guava with a hint of pineapple. Frutti di Bosco, with is ripe mixed berries was good but it paled in comparison. Poor Fruitti di Bosco would've been strong contender any other day, but it just couldn't beat the Passion Fruit.

 July 22 ~ Caprino e Noci (Goat Cheese and Walnuts) and Croccantino al Sesamo (Crunchy Sesame)
Now, here's going way, way, way out of the box! Goat cheese gelato with walnuts...a creamy, sort of melt-too-fast kind of ice cream that has a tangy, but sweet, cheesy flavor. I tried not to think of goat cheese while I ate it actually, because once I did start to think of goat cheese, it tasted like goat cheese. My brain didn't want to compute what my taste buds were tasting once my mind started wandering. Don't get me wrong, I love goat cheese, just not in my gelato. It wasn't all that bad, but I would say that I would skip that flavor next time. Way to go for being all adventuresome though! The Croccantino al Sesamo was a good flavor. It reminded me a lot of Halva. Sesame, yummy goodness but in the form of gelato. What's not to love?

 Detail of the Goat Cheese and Crunchy Sesame gelato combo.
See, I wasn't kidding about the "melt-too-fast kind" with that goat cheese gelato. Note: Italy gets a fail in the napkin department. The dainty, wax-papery excuse for a napkin just doesn't hold up to a melt-too-fast kind of mess.

 July 26 ~ Lampone (Raspberry) and Ananas (Pineapple)
This was a nice pairing of sorbetti. I was determined to find something that I had not had before and these two sorbetto flavors were the choice for the day. It was everything for me not to get the Passion Fruit again, and I was even eyeballing the Limone. I was happy to get these two flavors though. They complemented each other very well and were not overly sweet.

 July 27 ~ Cassata (Neapolitan), Mousse di Cioccolato (Chocolate Mousse)
and Amarenata (Cherry)
This mix worked very well together. The Cassata, a Sicilian favorite, reminded me much of the sweet cakes they serve in Sicily. This gelato was just like it's cake cousin, super sweet with all of that candied fruit packed in there. I was happy to find bits of pistachio nut in there.
 The Mousse di Cioccolato was what they call a semifreddo. It's semi-frozen and has the texture of frozen mousse because it is often produced by combining two equal parts of ice cream and whipped cream.
 The Amarenata was a creamy cherry infused gelato with chewy, delicious bits of cherries mixed in. I'm happy to say that they all tasted good! Thankfully too, seeing that this was to be my last trip to a gelateria trip for the month!


The Gelato Challenge was certainly a challenge!

Rule #1: I was able to stick to and managed to order a different gelato flavor each day. I did have Cioccolato Fondente twice but it was twice in the same day, so I passed Rule #1 with flying colors. Rule #1 became difficult after trying that Passion Fruit Sorbetto. I could've tossed all of the other flavors aside and replace all of my future Sorbetti di Limone for the Passion Fruit!
Rule #2: I, whole-heartedly, failed at the Sorbetto di Limone rule! I was weak. I may have passed this rule had I had the Sorbetto di Limone with Vodka waved under my nose towards the end of the month. I really was pretty tired of gelato after awhile. I swear. Hmm...hm.
Rule #3: Try every flavor that the gelateria had around the corner. I failed that one too. I tried to go there a few different days and it was closed. Sure, I could've have piled on three flavors each day and had a larger cone, but I was okay with the fact that I wasn't going to accomplish this part of the challenge when the only flavors that were left were Vanilla, Hazelnut (which I don't like at all), Orange and Lemon Sorbet.
Rule #4: Go outside my comfort zone. I have to say that I knocked a few out of the park here. This was most notedly made with the Goat Cheese with Walnuts flavor choice! It's one thing for me to have chunky bits of nuts in my ice cream but, come on...goat cheese?!

This gelato eating challenge wouldn't have been possible if I hadn't planned to walk to and from my apartment to my sculpture class everyday. It was much harder than I imagined, both trying to chow down on every flavor one particular gelateria has to offer and walking on those tiny streets lined with uneven cobble-stone! I can say that the next time I choose a food challenge it will be something more like what's on my Bucket List page...Find good salted crab in San Francisco or Have a pint of beer on draft in Ireland. Those are things I can do...now it's just getting there!

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