Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Great Ice Cream Face-Off

More than a year ago I made the mistake to become embroiled in an argument about the true nature of ice cream. Jen, one of my colleagues and avowed foodie, insisted that "gelato" and "ice cream" are different creatures. I insisted that it was just a matter of translation, gelato being simply the Italian word for ice cream and the other way around. Oh boy, did I have it coming. Getting into an argument with a bunch of lawyers is never a good idea, even if you are one yourself.

Jen's argument was that the USDA or the FDA or the FAA or whatever defined ice cream as having a higher amount of fat than gelato. I see her point, to a point.

If you grow up in Belgium, like I did, you know that "French fries" are not French, but instead are frites, fritjes or Fritten, depending in which language community you happen to live. You also know that there is no such thing as a Belgian waffle. Just as certainly you know that the many parlors of a certain type do not sell something as exotic-sounding as gelato, but rather glace itlaienne, italiaanse ijsje or Italienisches Eis. Still, Jen was unable or rather unwilling to see my point.

The argument escalated, other colleagues were drawn in, and a line was drawn. On the one side was the American separate and unequal (i.e. ice cream ≠ gelato, or else) faction, consisting of some of my colleagues (et tu, Bryan?), and on the other side were the European unified ice cream = gelato = eis = ijsje = glace and-who-cares-anyway separatists, consisting of me.

Liz, in true American fashion, suggested an event that had a competitive element, namely some sort of eat-off. I can never say no to an Eis, thus I agreed immediately. Marilee, by managerial decree made it a team event, and Bryan provided scholarly literature in the form of a dubious article in the NYT.

Of course Liz had to pour oil on the flames by stating that "[t]he article highlights a distinction between gelato and ice cream...see below.  Very Interesting....Perhaps we can discuss tomorrow!"

Indeed, the NYT article proclaimed that "[i]n the case of gelato, which in theory contains less air than other types of ice cream, makers often cite the intense flavor and dense texture (both of which result from the way gelato is made) as reasons for a higher price".

We could have discussed this immediately, dear Liz: of course Italian-style ice cream will sell at a premium in the US. The same would be true when selling gelato americano in Italy. There, the distinguishing characteristic could or would be a "creamier texture" compared to the local product.

On the other hand, maybe it's just the 'o' at the end. We should do a focus group to see how much people are willing to shell out for "icecreamo." (Maybe Sheli can check this one out for us, it's within 100 miles of Boston.)

Instead of worrying about such trifles I set the tone (or maybe rather my palate) for tomorrow's after-work event by preparing some vermicelli (Italian for "little worms," they never use that moniker in when selling these type of noodles in the US) with costoluto genovese heirloom tomatoes and basil, fresh from my garden, some garlic, some EVO and a little gound beef from a grass-fed cow. My boys even left me a bit so I could have an Italian lunch before dessert. Unfortunately, I won't be able to bring the prosecco to work ...

Carey decided that she'd had enough of the argument and invest the time remaining into deciding what shoes to wear. I am sooo glad that there was at least one non-partisan character in this commedia dell'arte.

Throughout the day, we were sizzling with anticipation. Most of us left work around 3:30 PM, except for Carey, who thought we were supposed to show up at Ring Mountain Creamery Cafe at that time. I was second. She was wearing sneakers that went very well with her sweat pants. Right in front of the ice cream parlor she was sitting on hot coals because she had promised to meet a friend at the gym. Marilee, the sponsor of this event showed up and we went in. A nice selection of reasonably priced ice cream and gelato, whatever the difference. Fortunately most of the rest of the gang showed up, too, so we started ordering. I opted for something called the Ring Peak, a sampler with 5 smaller scoops of one's choice. I needed this in order to support the scientific tack I decided to take: chocolate gelato, chocolate ice cream, strawberry gelato, strawberry ice cream, and a scoop of mandarin gelato to clean the palate.

Well, I have to admit, even with my continental palate I think I would have had a hard time to distinguish  between the variety in a double-blind study. We absolutely have to test my hypothesis that others will be equally as challenged by having a taste test, blind of course at our next staff outing.

The friendly banter I had expected was not present, no big argument of whether gelato was ice cream or not. I think everyone was just too busy eating their scoops to bother. I guess the sniping will start again at The Office.

I could not resist another scoop before I left Ring Mountain, one for the road so to say. I opted for Death by Chocolate Ice Cream. A good choice, preventing drips from my cone while doing 80 with a stick shift on a winding stretch of the Interstate. Felt just like Italy!

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