The scoop on Italian ice cream

One of the undisputed joys of visiting Italy is the ice cream.

by: Francoise Michel: AFP | 19 Aug 2008

It is no wonder, since most Italian gelato is concocted from scratch by small businesses, many handed down through the generations in the country that pioneered the popular treat.

"I put together all the ingredients myself," says Maria Agnese Spagnuolo.

Spagnuolo, 42, boasts three gelaterias in Rome under the banner Fatamorgana, having opened her first in 2003.

Clearly, working from scratch allows boundless creativity.

Spagnuolo's head-spinning flavours, both sweet and savoury, have names like Greek Baklava, Aphrodite (celery and lime), Wasabi (chocolate and horse radish) and Kentucky (coffee and tobacco).

"Two flavours come together and create a third," she says.

"I hope to offer a little more than ice cream, a little love."

One flavour mixing fennel, honey and licorice has a secret name, Kama Sutra, which she leaves off the label for fear of embarrassing parents with children in tow.

Around 1,000 customers flock to her shop in north-eastern Rome's Africano quarter each day.

A first scoop of Fatamorgana gelato &ndash far less calorific than store-bought ice cream &ndash costs €2, plus 50 cents for each additional scoop.

Spagnuolo's guru Claudio Torce, 46, presides over an array of some 100 flavours, many of them savoury, at his ice cream parlour Il Gelato.

Torce rails against ice cream makers who claim to be artisanal but who actually use semi-prepared ingredients bought from suppliers.

These are posted by law at all gelaterias, while the label "artigianale" (artisanal) has no legal protection.

According to Italy's Ice Cream Makers Association, artisanal ice cream accounts for 58 percent of the Italian market, with an average per capita consumption of 12 litres a year,

Officially, Italy counts some 34,500 artisanal ice cream makers.

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