It wasn’t too long ago that I met Monia, an Italian woman who owns, along with her husband Alessandro, an Italian gelateria and coffee shop in my cozy neighborhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn. Since NYC, and particularly Brooklyn, is not new to the gelato craze, L’Albero dei Gelati opened last year on 5th Avenue, could seem to just be one of many. In realty, though, it is one in a million: a gelateria fiercely committed to its traditional Italian roots in addition to always using local, fresh, seasonal ingredients. What you get is something uniquely spectacular: the best of America (-n ingredients) transformed into the best of Italy (-ian gelato). Paradiso.
L’Albero dei Gelati in Brooklyn was not this family’s first endeavor in the wonderful world of Italian gelato. Monia, who comes from a small town in Brianza between Milan and Como, is a second generation gelato maker. Her family owns and operates the original gelateria in Cogliate, just north of Milan, which makes artisan gelato known as gelato contadino, or”farmer’s gelato,” due to the fact that the the family strictly follows the Slow Food principles by using local farmers and growers to source their oh-so-delicious ingredients.
They carried this philosophy with them all the way to Brooklyn, where local New Yorkers and tourists stand in line with the native Italians seeking a to return to their homeland through a bite of Monia’s masterpiece. In addition to the array of basics flavors that hungry patrons go back for time and time again, the gelateria features gusti made with seasonal fruits and/or vegetables. And gelato is only the beginning: being true italians, they could never let their guests go hungry, not even for a second, L’Albero dei Gelati also offers a wide assortment of artisan treats, savory dishes and charcuteries, wines, and more, each crafted with products bought directly from their local partner farms.
I sat down with Monia over cup of beet and calendula gelato to get the inside scoop on this cool new Italian haven in the heart of Brooklyn:
SI: Which Italian ingredients do you use in recipes?
Monia: Most of our ingredients are locally sourced, and so they are not Italian, but American ingredients that we then transform using our Italian recipes. However, there are some things that you just can’t get Stateside and these we buy imported directly from Italy:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil which Italy is the most amazing producer of. All of our EVOO’s are either from the Marche region or Sicily. The further south you go, the more intense the flavor of the olive is.
- Hazelnuts from the Langhe, whose hazelnuts are known around the world and were first used for Nutella and gianduja.
- Pistacchio from Sicily, Bronte in particular, located on the west side of Mt. Etna.
- Almonds from Sicily, which is noted for its fantastic almonds, thought to be brought to the island under Arab rule.
- Fruit and vegetable preserves. In Italy these can still be found fresh and completely homemade; nothing like the industrial jams you see in you local chain supermarket.
SI: How do you make gelato? What are the main ingredients?
Monia: Fresh milk, cream, sugar (such as cane or fructose) and thickener. Nothing more.
SI: We are always asked how to recognize the good gelato from the bad. What tips would you offer to our gelato lover readers?
- The color: the unusual color will tell you how many additives the gelato has in it . For example: Mint leaves are green but the extract is not, so if you see a mint gelato that is green, you are not getting the real deal (be warned especially if you like mint and chocolate).
- Seasonality: if something isn’t in season it isn’t fresh. For example, yellow bell pepper should be a summer flavor only, and orange should only appear in the winter.
- Texture: Ice cream shouldn’t look polished or fluffy. The flatter and less translucent it is, the more authentic it is
- Taste: Gelato should have a perfect balance of ingredients to make it very digestible. Once you finish one cup you should want just a little bite more.
SI: So what is your favorite flavor? ?
Monia: I can’t go without “nocciola” or “gianduja” Both are nutty flavors and both are Italian favorites. My advice to all Italian travelers, whether it be your first or hundredth time: make time to order a cono of gianduja and you’ll be good to go.
SI: Speaking of travel tips….do you have any others for Italian travelers?
Monia: GO TO SICILY, where the people are very simple and friendly and their food is incomparable. And let’s not even get started on the beaches, which are some of the most amazing in the world. Alessandro also likes Umbria and the Marche, which are still very simple regions with small towns to visit where one can enjoy the authentic Italy.
Which gelato tips do you have for us? Let us know