|The ice-cream disciples
of San Crispino
Alongi knows a thing or two about bananas. The banana is crucial
he says. It its a day too green or a day too ripe, the ice-cream
just doesnt taste right.
Most ice-cream makers never even see the fruit that goes into their flavours
it comes squeezed or pulped in bottles and jars, pre-packaged by suppliers who
serve the trade. But Giuseppe Alongi is no ordinary gelataio, and the product
he makes and serves together with his wife Paola and his brother Pasquale at IL
Gelato di San Crispino is no ordinary ice-cream.
The gang of three set up their own shop four years ago in an unassuming suburb
in the south of Rome, not far from the Porta Latina in the Ardeatine walls. Apart
from the promise of heaven implicit in the name, there was little on the outside
to suggest that this was anything more than another neighbourhood gelateria. But
within a year, San Crispino was being hailed by Italys leading gastronomic
magazines as possibly the best ice-cream shop in the country. Such
media praise has been boosted by the bush telegraph of satisfied customers, and
the result has been a nightmare for the local traffic police. The shop is situated
on Via Acaia, part of Romes inner ring-road, and on the busiest evenings
its not unusual to see a vigile outside, attempting to clear the bottle-neck
of double-parked cars.
The reason for the crush is simple; the Alongi brothers are ice-cream evangelists,
and the sincerity of their faith is reflected in the quality of day product. Every
step of the process is rigidly controlled from the buying of the fruit, nuts and
other raw materials through to the temperature at which the ice-cream is served
lower than usual, as there are no emulsifiers in the San Crispino mix.
Each flavour has a slightly different balance of ingredients the pistacchio,
for example, needs a lot less milk fat in the base, as the nuts already have a
high fat content. And dont expect the end result to be that fluorescent
green colour we have come to associate with pistacchio ice-cream; Giuseppe and
Pasquale prefer not to dye their flavours.
For graphic proof of day manic dedication to quality you only need consider the
zabaglione. Most gelatai make do with cheap cooking marsala; the Alongi brothers
pour in a 20-year-old riserva produced by De Bartoli winery, which retails at
about L. 50,000 a bottle. Its a loss making flavours, admits
Giuseppe, but we see it as a kind of calling-card.
Giuseppe and Pasquale have visited the chickens who lay the eggs that go into
their ice-creams, and they can tell you what they are fed on. They are personal
friends of the bees that make the honey that goes into il gelato di San Crispino
the shops other flagship flavour and know just when is the
right time of year to make mandarin or strawberry sorbet. A number of the flavours
are seasonal, including a mythical funghi porcini (boletus mushroom) flavour which
Pasquale assures me is delicious though weve never offered
it to our customers, as the autumn rainfall hasnt been right up to now.
If you want to keep on the right side of these six-footers dont,
whatever you do, ask for a cone, only tubs are on offer here. Cones
contain five different types of colouring alone, thunders Pasquale,
with all the reforming zeal of Luther nailing up his ninety-five theses.
On one wall of the shop, an only partly tongue-in-cheek poster lays
down the Ten Commandments according to the Sect of San Crispino. After
a few visits it becomes increasingly difficult to argue with the First
Commandment: Thou shalt have no ice-cream except me.
- 1996/97 -