By Patrick Benard, eighth in the Fuori Tutti series
After a long slog of a winter and a slow to warm spring, it looks like gelato season may finally be upon us. Although America can claim the invention of the cone, gelato is one of Italy’s greatest contributions to humanity, undeniably ranking right up there with the Renaissance, Guillermo Marconi, Enzo Ferrari and Rino Gaetano.
Thought to be derived from Arab (Moorish) sorbet, Sicilians were quick to adopt and enhance the icy treat. Wikipedia doesn’t dwell on the difficulty of getting ice in a pre-refrigeration Sicily, but I‘ll assume ice was a rare and costly treat.
In the modern era, the gelato we know and love is generally of two styles: the dense Torino style with hazelnut, chocolate, and other nut and bean derived flavors, and the Sicily/Napoli style gelato: generally more whipped, fruity, with colorful and mixed flavors. Both styles have their merits and the world is a better place because of it. This is especially true when the product is artisanally produced (Productione Propria, or Artiganale). Unfortunately in tourist destinations such as Lucca, the overabundance of gelatorie means mass production (and mediocrity) for most of them. On a side rant: The authority responsible for issuing pizzeria, bike rental, and gelateria licenses inside the walls deserves a public shaming.
We are well beyond: “too much of a good thing”.. . End rant.
I wouldn’t want to denigrate Lucca Centro’s gelato (or its pizza), it does have fine examples of authentic and spectacular, but given the scope of my series (outside the walls), I will leave those reviews for someone else.
I have two outside-the-walls recommendations for you, dear reader, but I must tell you that I share these with some reluctance. One in particular I was sworn to not reveal to any stranieri. I’m not making this up, the Lucchese keep their jewels to themselves and share them very carefully. The Instagram effect can be catastrophic. In this case, I may or may not have taken an oath. The memory is a little foggy, so we’ll start with the less controversial.
Gelateria Da Sauro in Ponte a Moriano, provides a terrific opportunity for you to earn your treat by being conveniently located on the Serchio bike paths northern most point. Da Sauro has created its own production for over 40 years. It’s definitely on the southern, colorful and fruity end of the Italian gelato spectrum. Flavors are bold yet proudly natural. Cups are frequently enhanced with fresh or stewed fruit, portions are very generous, and Da Sauro’s large terrace is a wonderful place to enjoy your traditional gelato.
The other one is closer. It’s on the other end of the Da Sauro spectrum – by which I mean it’s northern, modern and subtle. Priding itself on the same level of natural and artisanal production values, the other one is, I must admit, my favorite. The pistachio is the most authentic I’ve ever tasted, and the staff was hired by (what can only be) a hiring genius; everyone there seems to actually want to be there.
The other one specializes in modern renderings of gelato using classic flavors. For example: Ricotta, fig and nut. Pomegranate, orange, and ginger.
Selections are added or subtracted based on seasonality and inspiration so don’t expect to always find a favorite.
Each flavor is derived from the original ingredient and offers that rare delight of complex subtlety, like the experience found at times in a fine restaurant, or over a special bottle of wine.
The other one is so good, so modestly priced, so original in its flavors, that the Luccese don’t want you or me ruining it. So, don’t tell your friends, don’t post any pictures on instagram, don’t review on Tripadvisor, but DO try Cremeria Opera.
Fatte a modo.