Sicilian gelato in the "heart" of Copenhagen
Back in August 2010 I went to Copenhagen for the Cooking Festival. I wrote a blog post about it where I also mentioned my surprise of finding a Sicilian gelateria right in the centre of the city promising to let you know more about it soon. I got very curious about it and got in touch with Danish-Italian David Ciccia to find out more, finally, after six months of email exchanges here is the interview to David.
When did you have your first Sicilian ice-cream? And what is it that you found so special about it?
I had my first Sicilian ice cream when I was very little, my father brought me to Sicily every year for 2 to 4 month at a time and I remember that they scooped the ice cream instead of making small balls like they do in Denmark, also it was much creamier and not so cold and they had some very strange flavors, like cassatta and zuppa inglese, but also things like stracciatella and gianduia, and the hazelnut was tasting very different than the one I had in Denmark (back in the 1970s).
How did the idea of Siciliansk IS come to your mind and what inspired it?
The idea of making a shop myself started because my cousin bought a bar in my hometown Marina di Caronia (near Messina) and he needed help that summer, so naturally, since I was fond of gelato I went in the kitchen and he hired a gelataio from Messina for to days to come and show us how to make ice cream. We shot everything on video so I could sit and study every day after he´d left.
So after returning the next summer to keep making ice-cream for my cousin, as I like cycling very much, I decided to go around Sicily and discovered that many of the best flavors come from ingredients produced in Sicily, so I bought some pistacchio in Bronte and returned to Caronia and went straight into the kitchen and made ice-cream. So all the people in town talked about it and I had discussions about every ice-cream I made everyday that summer so I could perfect the recipes and test ideas.
What did you do to make it happen?
When I returned home to Copenhagen, I had some pistacchio paste with me and every time I had a chance I made ice-cream for my friends and they were astonished about how pistacchio could taste so good. At that time i just bought some vanilla ice-cream and mixed the pasta in it, and then one night I met a guy (Michael, who is now my partner) and told him that I had an idea of opening a shop and he was very keen on joining in and that was how we started.
Your gelato is "twice Sicilian", because you also make a point of getting original Sicilian ingredients to make it, like Modica's chocolate, Avola's almonds, etc. How often do you travel to Sicily and how do you select your ingredients there?
I travel to Sicily two times a year, autumn and spring, to check up on new recipes and products, if I can squeeze in a little vacation in the summer time I do that too. The thing is that in Siciliy you have to be in personal contact with the suppliers because I always have to pay in advance so you have to trust the people you are dealing with (its good to know who you are sending 9000 euros to when you are waiting tree weeks for some products to come by truck;)) so you need a strong stomach in the beginning because you have a lot of money out and have to trust that the things they say they are sending, are actually the products you will be getting. But in-spite of Sicily´s bad reputation for cheaters and scammers (Mafiosi), I must say that I have never had any problems and people have always kept their promises, though some times it takes a little longer than you expect for the things to arrive...
Also some times the harvest of some products are not that good one year and you have to get something from elsewhere, f.e. almonds are difficult to get from Avola and then I have to test other almonds from other parts of Sicily, last year Bronte pistacchio got DOP certification and now the prices has skyrocketed! So I have to test other pistacchios from around Etna (I must admit that my test shoved that Sicilian pistacchio is actually better for ice-cream than the more light and delicate one from Bronte) its the same with hazelnut; everyone knows that Nocciole di Piemonte IGP is said to be the best hazelnut in the world, but I like (and all my customers here in Denmark) more the dark roast of Nocciola Tonda di Sicilia from the Nebrodi and Madonie mountains because its more "raw" in its taste and cuts through the ice-cream with stronger flavor. Then, talking about almonds, the majority of almond paste they make in Sicily is made out of white almonds (without the peel) but I prefer working with almonds with the peal on, which gives me a slightly bitter taste but again a much stronger one, and since you mix it with sugar (a lot;)!) you get something special with that extra bitterness a new dimension to the flavor you can say, but its all a matter of taste in the end and that is my personal opinion.
Copenhagen seems to be crazy for your Sicilian gelato, did you expect this success?
I must admit that I did expect some kind of success in Copenhagen, there were already a chain of Italian gelato bars so I knew that people liked that kind of ice cream. But since everyone uses semilavorati (semi-processed ingredients) from Northern Italian companies I was aware that noone would have had what I had, plus there were no real artisans-made ice cream here. That said I was surprised anyway that a flavor like Zuppa Inglese became such a hit!
What is people's favourite flavour?
Of course, pistacchio was the most successful of all. People had never tasted real good pistacchio gelato before, and many of those who normally dislike it now wanted to have it all the time. That’s the biggest satisfaction when you get someone to change their mind about something!
Now its no secret that chocolate ice cream is the number one seller in the world, so I was happily surprised when I discovered that they also make that in Sicily (the first summer I used a chocolate from Tuscany called Amedei). So after going to Modica and visiting the small chocolate factory Antica Dolceria Bonajuto and talking to them, I started to make my chocolate ice-cream with chocolate from Modica and people were really surprised about how rich its flavor is.
The good thing is that they can make anything I need because they are artisans too, so if I like it to be 90% and vanilla flavored in 1 kilo bars they just make it! This allows me to constantly develop my recipes because most of my suppliers are artisans just like me.
....and what is your favourite?
My personal favourite are, and have always been since I was a kid, pistacchio and zuppa inglese. I remember that every summer when I arrived in Caronia I went straight down to the bar and told them that "now you can start making pistacchio and zuppa cos im here for the next month"!
But after I started making ice-cream myself I always dig into what particularly ice-cream I m working on. So when I work with a specific Tahiti vanilla recipe Tthat turns into my favourite for that period, but I really like Torrone (nougat). There is something so Sicilian about it! It brings memories of Sicilian bars and pasticcerias back and when you roast almonds the ice-cream shop really smells of Sicily!
Are you working on any new creation? I noticed a flavour that stands out as completely Northern European, Havtorn from Finland. How would you explain the taste of this gelato to a Sicilian?
Right now I’ m working on the sea-buckthorn sorbet (olivello spinoso) in Danish its called Havtorn, I think its the most spectacular sorbet that I have ever made to date! Its very difficult to describe the taste because its very complex, kind of the freshness of lemon and mandarin and the depth of blood-orange and with something totally different and wonderful at the same time., Its like how do you describe Zuppa Inglese other than its kinda
I get my sea-buckthorn from Sweden and they are organic too! Like most of the fruits here in Denmark, so Sicily start making more of those organic products too!!! ...because that’s were the future is going and that’s were I would like to be in a few years: 100% ORGANIC. Right now I use milk and cream, and dextrose, sugar for the sorbets, some fruits when available, strawberry´s, rhubarb, lemons for granita and of course the sea-buckthorn, but I would like all the products to be ORGANIC.
What are your plans for the future of Siciliansk Is?
But I would like one day to open in Sicily and give back the good ice cream to the Sicilians, because like my partner says "how can it be that I haven't tasted something better than what we make in Copenhagen here in Sicily?" and that’s the thing that I don’t get about Sicilians, how can it be that so many gelateria uses semilavorati (semi-finished products) from outside the island when everything you need to make some of the best ice-cream in the world is right here in front of you? The genuine level of ice cream in Sicily is not good right now and that has to change I think, because like with many other things on this island, in the end someone from outside will come start making it for them, and that is something that’s happening in other areas, like wine and olive oil. Maybe I’ll be one too...
I am very enthusiastic about David’s work and commitment to top quality Sicilian products. I think he is doing an amazing job and keeping the name of Sicily high in Denmark.
Then of course, you might guess my surprise to hear that he thinks that Sicily needs people coming from outside the island to show us how things should be done. But I guess we can only beat one stereotype at the time;)! I just cannot wait to meet David in Sicily and introduce him to the right producers and gelatai to change his mind. As he said: “That’s the biggest satisfaction when you get someone to change their mind about something!”.
Those of you who missed the post about the Sicilian who brought gelato to the world and to the Parisien intelligentsia can find it here