There's gelato, and there's gelato....and then there's Claudio Torcé's gelato. Everyone who visits Rome wants to try a great gelato, and there are so many gelaterie out there (hundreds) that the unknowing traveler can easily stumble upon bad gelato. It's easy to weed out the gelaterie displaying puffy, whipped products in unnatural colors.
Claudio Torcé's gelaterie, all using the simple name Gelato, are all located in central and south Rome, mostly the EUR area. The gelato is all his, handmade and conceptualized by him, but sold in gelaterie owned by his franchisees.
Claudio comes from a family of sweet producers. His grandmother owned a pasticceria in Rome and transmitted her passion to Claudio. Daily she would travel all around Rome purchasing only the best ingredients for her sweets. Claudio instead took the gelato path professionally and has been making gelato since early 1984...nearly thirty years.
Claudio is constantly inventing new flavors; my personal favorite is Gorgonzola. Although at first glance it may seem like an odd and incongruous pairing of sweet and savory, Claudio points out quite accurately that if you examine the gamut of flavor within Gorgonzola cheese, a lot of what is contained therein is sweetness. So as it turns out it's quite a natural ingredient to be made into gelato.
Claudio is continually improving and perfecting his gelato flavors, even those he's been producing for years like dark chocolate. First and foremost he looks to ingredient quality. If it's a walnut gelato then he purchases the very best, unbleached walnuts. It often means ingredients are not purchased locally, but it's ingredient quality and flavor he's seeking. His walnuts are, as it turns out, purchased abroad.
Claudio focuses on the intricate details of how his ingredients work together, which means how you amalgamate them and in what quantities. He's found, for example, that the thickening agent Carruba works best at 80°C, but at that temperature the flavor of an ingredient like chocolate is altered. And so he's fou nd that striking a balance at 65°C or 70°C works optimally. He's understood that some fruits are better used fresh and others like small berries are better frozen. All these details and many, many more are the details that a quality gelataio like Claudio is constantly focusing on.
Yesterday I attended a gelato workshop offered by Claudio Torcé. We made four flavors of gelato: rosemary, dark chocolate, walnut and strawberry. Claudio is both technical and instinctive when he makes gelato and he imparted a wealth of knowledge to us all.
The walnut gelato was far and above my favorite. Walnuts gently roasted at a low temperature, then sweated in a saucepan with a hint of extra virgin olive oil, was the primary ingredient. The walnuts were then finely processed, and next vigorously ground using mortar and pestle to an almost butter-like consistency. All these steps work together to yield the spectacular walnut flavor in this gelato.