The ice-cream disciples of San Crispino
Giuseppe Alongi knows a thing or two about bananas. “The banana is crucial” he says. “If it's a day too green or a day too ripe, the ice-cream just doesn’t 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 Italy’s 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 Rome’s inner ring-road, and on the busiest evenings it’s 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 their products. 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 pistachio, for example, needs a lot less milk fat in the base, as the nuts already have a high fat content. And don’t expect the end result to be that fluorescent green colour we have come to associate with pistachio ice-cream; Giuseppe and Pasquale prefer not to dye their flavours.
For graphic proof of their 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 50,000 lire a bottle. “It’s 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 shop’s 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 we’ve never offered it to our customers, as the autumn rainfall hasn’t been right up to now.”
If you want to keep on the right side of these six-footers don’t, 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 mine”.

- 1996/97 -