Just like the cathedral’s square in Cremona, Ambra Meda can’t walk by “La Cremeria delle Piazzetta” without stopping. Their gelato is stunning. Every time.
By Ambra Meda
On Wednesday mornings, the streets of Cremona are bustling with life. The weekly outdoor market brightens up the city with tens of stands selling fabrics and flowers, cheese and vegetables.
Wandering through the vibrant stone paved alleys of the Medieval city center is a pleasure I hardly renounce.
Although it is customary to stop for cappuccino and brioches in one of the many sidewalk coffee shops, this morning I opt for something different.
On a mission for my “Gelato Diaries” column, I walk straight to “La Cremeria della Piazzetta“. In Italy no one gets gelato before lunch, so mornings are a perfect time to have a chat and enjoy the view of the containers still perfectly intact.
While we sit at a table near the tempting ice cream display, Danilo Fontana, owner and gelato chef, warns me: “Presentation is an important part of the experience, but to judge a good gelato you should taste it with your eyes closed. If you can manage to recognize the flavors, it means I have done my job correctly”. I accept the challenge and sample the spoon he hands me. On impact, a light chocolate sensation rises in my mouth; afterwards an intense although delicate alcohol flavor expands; eventually sweet candied bits woven into the cream emerge. “Brava!”, Danilo says, “it’s ‘Arancia Cubana’: a chocolate gelato intertwined with oranges cooked in sugar and Rum”.
I like this game. I continue playing. A silky cream infused with vanilla beans loaded with tender chunks of fruit. “Caramelized peach?” “Almost”, Danilo specifies, “I simmer the fruit in Brachetto, a sweet and light pink wine”. Amazing.
I move on. Round three. The first thing I capture is the perfume. Something like smelling a candle or a bar of soap, something flowery… “It’s violet!” he says. I look at it, it’s light purple, exactly like a flower petal.
“Wow, I have never had anything like that before. “Well”, he says, “I think that through making gelato and choosing and mixing the ingredients one develops their own personality. My gelato is… me. It expresses my philosophy of life”. Before starting his adventure with gelato, Danilo worked in the building trade. “I always felt that these two fields weren’t that far from each other. They are both about math and calibrating ingredients. To me, making a new flavor is like building a new house.”
With this conviction in his mind, in 2000, Danilo quit his job in the construction industry, took a gelato class in Brescia and reinvented himself as a gelato maker. Twelve years later, after rolling up his sleeves and learning through practice, he succeeded in making his “Cremeria della Piazzetta” one of the best gelaterias in the city.
While we’re talking, I am distracted by his assistant maneuvering a bottle of Balsamic Vinegar glaze. “What is she doing with that?” I ask. “It’s our new proposal for lunch. A homemade waffle, topped with whipped cream and Balsamico.
I’m always looking for alternatives for my customers because a common misconception about gelato – Danilo continues – is that people consider it as a dessert when it is actually real food. Far away from being a snack, gelato is a light and complete meal that could be a perfect substitute for lunch”.
I look at my watch. It’s exactly noon. It feels right to take his advice, so I order a cup of ‘Fondente’, a chocolate sorbet which is only made with water and 80% cacao. It’s intensely flavored, airy and velvety at the same time. The lightness of a sorbetto with the lusciousness of a mousse. “How do you get this consistency?”
Danilo reveals the mystery: “Cocoa is a vegetable, and, like every other vegetables, is mainly composed of fibers. I let the cocoa soak in water for hours so that its fibers get hydrated and swollen”. Simplicity and a great knowledge of raw ingredients are the secret to an outstanding result.
Just like the cathedral’s square, I can’t walk by “La Cremeria delle Piazzetta” without stopping. Their gelato is stunning. Every time.