The International Writers Magazine
:Italy: Gelato Heaven

Raymond Clement

n a cloudless October night, with a slight chill in the air, an imposing figure accompanied by a small band of armed men silently came ashore on a beach at the foot of a small castle situated on the Calabrian coast in southern Italy. The fishing village they landed at was called Pizzo. The year was 1815.

The man, the erstwhile King of Naples, Gioacchino Murat. He and his cohorts however, were shortly arrested and in less than a week Murat, brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte was executed by firing squad in the courtyard of the castle, as the leader of the attempted coup against Ferdinand IV of Bourbon.

The castle which achieved its notoriety as the place of the execution of the King of Naples is small as castles go but its proportions are pleasing and it may be toured in a hour or so. The spare cell where he spent his last hours, and penned a famous last letter to his wife and four children; the place of his execution (one can imagine the pock marks in the wall were made by the bullets of the firing squad); and the impressive view of the beach from the ramparts make it a worthwhile visit. Murat, though his plan to foment an uprising failed, was apparently heroic in death: The firing squad, fearful of killing a king, deliberately misfired. Murat, then took command and personally ordered the deadly fusilade. All seven bullets found their mark.

Twenty years later Alexander Dumas, on visiting Pizzo, was moved to remark that unpresupposing places can become reknown through accidents of human drama. Such an occurence, the execution of Murat, he said, was to be the fate of this fishing hamlet.

However, a nearly tragic event that had occured a few centuries earlier, in 1632, had placed Pizzo on the map prior to the events of 1815. On a stormy night a merchant vessel (as a matter of fact from Naples) foundered on the rocky coast a few miles north of Pizzo proper. Miraculously there was no loss of life. The crew ascribed their good fortune to a picture of the Madonna carried aboard which washed ashore in front of a small grotto. The men took it as a sign, enlarged the grotto,and had it converted to a church dedicated to the Madonna in 1700.

But the fame of the Chiesetta di Piedigrotta (Church of the Rock Grotto) comes more from the decoration with myriad of stone sculptures, rather than the survival of the ship’s company from drowning. The work of more than a century and a half begun by Angelo Barone, a local artisan,in 1850, and continued by his son and his grandson. The last work, by the grandson, Giorgio Barone, are bas relief profiles of John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXIII,

The medium, used by the Barone’s, is a local rock called “tufo” which is a whitish gray agregate that forms many of the cliffs in this area. Inside the grotto, the statuary, ranging from biblical characters to one depicting the slaying of the dragon by Saint George, has been turned a darker gray, almost black. Unfortunately some of the statuary was plundered by vandals and art thieves, and has been damaged. The only lighting is by candle. The floor is unpaved, being just hard packed earth. The grotto lies right along the shoreline and is reached by steps from the highway. The distance is about 100 meters (300 feet). The climb back up can be a little arduous.

It is but a short drive back to Pizzo, to discover and indulge in what has brought fame and reknown throughout Italy to this seaside resort. Surrounding the town square are about fifteen of the sixty gelateria (ice cream shops) that are located in Pizzo. They offer a mind boggling array of ice cream treats to delight the most discerning palate. The signature ice cream is called Tartufo, after another delicacy, the truffle.

The Duke of Aosta (cousin to the former king of Italy), and Prince Joachim Luis Napoleon  Murat, (A great-great grandson of the King of Naples) have recently stopped by to sample one the many original and distinctive creations.

What sets this ice cream apart from all others? What makes it so special that five star hotels and restaurants send refrigerated trucks to this small seaside town to bring it back to Venice, Milan, Florence, and Rome for the delight of their patrons and those of Calabrian roots that long for this culinary delight? Two reasons, the ingredients and the fact that it is made entirely by hand.

Fresh whole milk, never powdered, local eggs, area grown strawberries, mountain blueberries, currants, and nuts. The finest and richest of imported chocolate. All these ingredients are blended by hand. (Some in recipes that have been handed down and jealously guarded for eight generations). Only enough is made for the daily demand, which can be prodigious when the crowds arrive in August. One gelateer hazarded an educated guess that on a busy day he will go through 25 gallons - all having been prepared in his kitchen the night before. Multiply that by the 60 odd gelateria in Pizzo and your talking a lot of ice cream.

The “Gelateria Chez Toi” specializes in a ice cream creation called Tartufo Moro The basic ingredients are chocolate ice cream, hazlenut ice cream, and a dark, rich choclate syrup. The two ice creams are prepared and placed in a freezer. The chocolate syrup is allowed to come to room temperature. Then, by hand, a scoop of hazlenut ice cream is placed on top of one of chocolate, a cavity is then hollowed out in the hazelnut ice cream, and is filled with the aforementioned choclate syrup. The top is closed, and the tartufo, now about the size of a tennis ball, is wrapped in waxed paper, and placed in the freezer for the next day’s business.

The brothers Raffaele and Morino Riga have been operating their “Gelateria Chez Toi” where this treat is manufactured for more than thirty years. When it is not busy they are more than happy to show off their production center which is basically a spotless kitchen about fifteen foot square. They work as a team and produce about two hundred tartufo a day, almost double that number during August.
“They can be frozen for 24 hours, after that we must discard them because the flavor is gone,” said Raffaele.
“So we try to gauge as closely as possible how many we will need, after thirty years we’ve gotten pretty good at guessing,” added Morino.

Raffaele takes a tartufo from the freezer, liberally dusting it with cocoa powder, and places it on the counter. The obvious delight in the taste of the creation is written on the face of his guest.
“I don’t tell my customers until after they have had my tartufo that each one contains seven hundred calories,” intones Morino. One can enjoy the ice cream of Pizzo from a simple cone, to a flaming creation called “Mt. Etna by Night”.

With the castle lighted with floodlights, accordion music playing somewhere in the background, and the square filled with vacationers, strolling around the enjoying some ice cream: is there a more an ideal way to end the day?
Pizzo is located on the Western coast of Italia in southern Calabria. It is roughly 30km from Tropea.

© Raymond Clement Feb 2006
More Destinations in Hacktreks  

Dacha to the Adriatic
Melissa Anderson in Castro, Italy
The Tourist Association  PRO LOCO
Tel. 0963531310, Fax 0963531551 can
provide information on lodging, and dining plus information on the historic  sites.


© Hackwriters 1999-2006 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.