KELSEY PARRIS (orig pub May 2011)
Sometimes the only way to escape the heat of a New Orleans summer is to indulge in something icy cold and sweet, colorful and delicious. One perennial favorite is a treat from a country whose culinary and cultural influence is often overlooked in this former French colony. But we must not forget the Italians, specifically Sicilians, and their refreshing summer treat: gelato.
From the late 1880’s through the early 1900’s, New Orleans drew a large number of Sicilian immigrants who were eager to escape the political and economic turmoil of Italy. After the end of slavery, the sugar fields and urban factories demanded cheap labor and the Sicilians quickly became the new labor class. The European atmosphere of the city encouraged the immigrants to settle permanently here, and of course, that meant that the need for Italian food grew and needed to be satisfied. In Elizabeth Fussell’s essay, Constructing New Orleans, Constructing Race: A Population History of New Orleans, she reports that by 1910 Sicilian immigrants and their descendents accounted for 39% of Louisiana’s population.
Bakeries such as Angelo Brocato’s, which opened in 1905, provided the Italian community with a taste of home through their traditional Italian bread and desserts, like cannoli and gelato. Brocato’s still proudly uses recipes that have been passed down through the family, and the desserts and gelatos are named in their original Italian. The old world style store and the hot months of summer draw hundreds of people to their doors each night.
In recent years, gelato has become a popular dessert in American culture. So familiar, like ice-cream, yet always a little different, with exotic flavors and a smooth texture that is both creamy and somehow lighter than ice cream’s richness, gelato adds just a little intrigue to the average American palate that grew up on waffle cones and milkshakes. Yet many still are unfamiliar with this dessert. To be technical, gelato is made with a butterfat content of about 10%, as opposed to the 18-25% butterfat content of ice cream. It is also typically made in smaller batches and at a lower temperature, less air is incorporated during the freezing process, which creates that rich smoothness that melts perfectly in your mouth.
As this summer indulgence has made its way out of exclusively Italian circles, the spirit of New Orleans creativity and cultural blending has given gelato a new twist. La Divina Gelateria is a relatively new gelato shop, started in 2007 by Carmello and Katrina. Turillo. Their goal is to incorporate local flavors to a traditional Italian formula, using local organic milk from Smith’s Creamery and whatever fresh ingredients they can get to produce flavors such as Turbo Dog Chocolate Sorbetto or Bourbon Pecan gelato. La Divina works hard to ensure that their gelato reflects the season and the available ingredients without relying on commercially produced pastes or bases.
Other gelato shops have sprouted up in the city, ensuring that no matter how far your wanderings take you, there should be a brightly colored cup and matching adorable gelato shovel waiting to cool you down.
La Divina Gelateria: 3005 Magazine Street and 621 Saint Peter Street, New Orleans
Angelo Brocato’s: 214 North Carrolton Avenue, New Orleans
Sucre: 3025 Magazine Street, New Orleans
Nick’s Snoballs & Gelato: 908 Harrison Avenue, New Orleans
Gaspare’s Gelateria Café: 4421 Clearview Parkway, Metairie