At a relatively early age I discovered what made the big difference between Italy and the UK (apart from the weather). It was the quality of the ice-cream. (The wine came later). The summit of ice-cream making in our London suburb was when the van turned up with its enervating chimes and we rushed to get our wafers or cones with something, either ghastly pink or off-white, with a chocolate flake stuck on top.
It was lickable but paled very significantly as the taste buds were awakened into extasies by ice-creams in Italy with their incredibly varied flavours and taste of natural ingredients.
Ice-cream reached the UK in the seventeenth century when Charles I imported an Italian chef to make it for him. The “royal” prerogative was largely broken when a Italian-swiss ice-cream maker named Gatti set up the first ice-cream stall before Charing Cross station in 1851. From then on the British public, regardless of class, have been hooked on this wondrous dessert.
Sadly, however, just as (in an episode of that immortal comedy series, “Yes Minister”), the British sausage had to be re-named, according to European Union rules, as the “emulsified high-fat offal tube”, so the average British ice-cream, which contains well above the permitted E. U. level of fats and oils, should be re-titled the “hydrogenated vegetable oil iced slab”. Or am I becoming a little unfair?
Returning to Italy and, in particular, Lucca: until a few years ago we used to patronise a couple’s ice-cream shop in Via San Paolino. Apart from the excellence of their product, what was interesting was that this couple had given up work in a UK insurance office to enter into a business in which not only did they lack experience but also where they were in stiff competition with the natives.
However, just as Italians emigrating to Glasgow struck it lucky opening up fish ‘n chip shops (a fact celebrated in Barga’s summer festival) so why shouldn’t Brits have done the same with ice-cream in Italy? It’s a difficult act to follow and our friends did it excellently before moving to pastures new in France.
Yesterday at Lucca, enjoying Saint Zita’s day, visiting her uncorrupted corpse (a sign of sainthood apparently) exposed in a glass case near the entrance to San Frediano’s church and appreciating the city’s unique amphitheatre square ablaze with flower stalls
(see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/from-flour-to-flowers-festa-di-santa-zita/ for more of that event) we decided to taste some ices at Gelateria Veneta in Via Fillungo no 136.
Our taste buds were certainly not disappointed. In fact, we thought it was the best ice-cream we’d licked for a long time. The prices for our cones were reasonable and, if we wished, we could have indulged in even more gluttonous pleasures, including an amazing looking banana split.
It may seem strange to have the Venice region as an originator of ice-cream. Surely the tradition started further south? Venice, however, was amply provided in its hinterland with all the fruit trees it could have wanted to make up a great variety of flavours. The Alps just north, supplied all the ice it wanted, even at the height of summer, before modern refrigeration took over that task. Moreover, Veneto’s location made it an excellent focal point from whence ice-cream seller invaded the Austro Hungarian empire and its capital, Vienna (until 1866 the Veneto region was part of this empire) besides spreading across the whole of northern and central Italy.
The recipes followed are those originating from the Zoldo valley in the Dolomites (hence the name “zoldano” ice-cream) do not use milk and specialise particularly in fruit sorbets.
There are in fact four branches of the Gelateria Veneto, including the yoghurt place by the Rex hotel near Lucca station. The other three are within the city walls, one appropriately sited in Via Vittorio Veneto near san Pietro gate.
There’s more information at their web site at http://www.gelateriaveneta.net/
When the weather really heats up you’ll know where you’ll probably find us if we’re in Lucca…