Milan Eats: Best Gelato, 2018 Edition
I've been coming to Milan every year for the Salone di Mobile furniture fair and Design Week for the last few years. I look forward to seeing the new installations and products that the designers, architects, and companies bring out every year. But what I really look forward to is the gelato!
Nothing captures better the Italians' intense focus on quality and craftsmanship, than a well-made cup of gelato.
This year, unfortunately, I only had 36 hours in Italy, so I really had to hustle to maximize my gelato consumption. Would there be any changes from my favorites from 2017?
Reigning Favorite in Milan: Out of the Box (Via Marcello Malpighi 7, 20129 Milano, near Porta Venezia)
Out of the Box wasn't near any of the exhibitions I wanted to see this year, but I knew I had to make a little detour for my favorite gelateria in Milan. This trip reconfirmed: it still is my favorite gelateria in Milan.
Something that wasn't on the menu on my visit last year was this range of "Gelato Crudo," or raw gelato. Gelato, like any ice cream, requires heating up dairy and eggs to make the custard. Even sorbet requires heating up the sugar with water to make it dissolve. Apparently Out of the Box has found a way to make their gelato completely raw! This I really wanted to try.
Now, I'm no partisan of raw foods. I'm not really sure if raw foods always have benefits over cooked foods, and in fact I've read that sometimes cooked foods are more nutritious because the nutrients are more available for the body to absorb. But that's a question of nutrition, whereas I'm strictly here for the taste.
I had an eye-opening experience last year with the dairy-free pistachio sorbetto at Galiera 49 in Bologna, where a minimalist approach to ingredients led to a maximalist result in flavor. It was just so clean and pure. So I had an inkling that by reducing the ingredients in these "Gelato Crudo" preparations would lead to a similar result.
I was right! I tried the "Mandorla Integrale" - made from just skin-on almonds, water, and agave syrup - and it was such a creamy but refreshing, subtle almond flavor, with no sticky aftertaste. I felt my rushed day slow down right then and there.
I also had my old favorite, the "Guglielmo" with marscapone, coffee, and cocoa nibs, like an unsweetened caffe latte. I also tried the "Edoardo" made with marscapone and pine nuts. It had a smooth, nutty flavor, and once again, just barely sweet. Much better than the pine nut gelato I had tried from Rivareno (below).
I actually tried going back to Out of the Box for a second visit the same day, but alas I had to head back to the hotel to check out in time for my flight. Until next time!
Best new flavor: Latte Neve (Via Vigevano 27, 20144, near Porta Genova)
I recall being introduced to the delicious combination of dark chocolate and coconut gelato at Latte Neve in a previous year. So, coming down to the south of Milan to see the exhibits in the Tortona district, I stopped by to get that exact combination.
When I was waiting, I spied a grey gelato in the corner, and my hear sped up. Could it be... black sesame? My all-time favorite dessert flavor??
Indeed, it was "Grigio Milano (arachidi e sesamo)!" Grey Milan, made with sesame and arachidi. I didn't know what arachidi meant, but I ordered it anyway.
The dark chocolate was as delicious as ever - like eating a chocolate bar, frozen. The coconut wasn't as coconutty as I remembered. But underneath these two flavors was the big revelation: the Grigio Milano. It was intense, with a strong taste of black sesame, but it wasn't a pure black sesame. There was an intense nuttiness which I loved, with a saltiness that accentuated the flavors. What could it be?
Between bites, I checked up Wordreference.com, and discovered: arachidi means peanuts! Wow! It didn't taste of peanuts, but rather the peanuts amplified the taste of the black sesame, which is often a bit muted in other preparations (e.g. at NY's Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, or at SF's Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous).
Black sesame is such a traditional Asian flavor, and peanut desserts are also common especially in Taiwan. But leave it to the Italians to take those traditional Asian ingredients and make it into something different, and spectacular. (I'm recalling last year's chazuke matcha and rice flavor at Gelateria Bloom in Modena.) Not many can make culinary fusion work, but the gelato artists can.
Oldie but goodie: Chocolat (Via Giovanni Boccaccio 9, 20123, near Cadorna train station)
I was on my way to the Triennale museum, so I stopped by Chocolat, one of my old favorites. I crossed my fingers that they would be open before the noon time which Google Maps gave, and luckily for my packed agenda, they were! I just wouldn't have had time to double back to this area otherwise.
They were still bringing out the gelato from the kitchen, and hadn't even put up the labels yet. But I could still tell which flavors were which. And this time, I spied a pale green flavor - mint chip! One of my favorites, yet something that I tend to see more in the US than in Europe.
I also ordered the 100% chocolate flavor and the coconut. The coconut here was filled with shreds of coconut - maybe this was what I was remembering instead of the Latte Neve version? The chocolate on the other hand was quite runny and melty. A perfect combination would be the stiffer chocolate from Latte Neve and the pulpy coconut from Chocolat!
The mint was good. It was much better than the mint chip I've had in Spain, which have been like eating cold toothpaste. It was perhaps a bit on the other end of the scale, where the mint flavor was a bit muted. Still, I was happy to get this classic American flavor in Milan.
Decent: Rivareno (Via Mercato 20, 20121, in the Brera district)
Right after landing in Milan, I headed first to the Brera area which is always chock full of exhibitions. On Via Mercato, a main drag, I passed by Rivareno gelateria, which I hadn't seen before.
They had some cool flavors here. Besides coffee, I also got their "Contessa" flavor, with almond and hazelnut cream, amaretti and caramelized almonds, and their "Leonardo" flavor with pine nut cream and toasted pine nuts.
The coffee flavor was like a rich caffe latte, and I quite enjoyed the Leonardo flavor which was full of toasted, whole pine nuts. I could only think that this one flavor must cost them a lot to make!
Overall, though, the flavors were just a tad too milky and sweet for me, tasting more like a traditional dessert than the refreshing, pure flavors that I adore in Italian gelato.
I later found out that Rivareno is a chain, with locations throughout Italy, and even a few in Spain and Australia. It's pretty good for a chain, perhaps a tad better than Gelateria La Romana which has also been opening up all over the world (Gelateria La Romana I remember as being even more sweet). And it's in a convenient location, so I would stop by if I'm walking down Via Mercato. It's the other gelaterias in Milan that I would make a special trip to visit!