Rivalries between paulistanos and porteños, our neighbours in Buenos Aires, have always run deep. There’s the neverending Pelé vs. Maradona debate; the squabbles over who makes the best doce de leite; and the bickering over which city serves the most flavourful and tender beef. The answers are, of course, Pelé, Brazilians and São Paulo, respectively. Ahem. But there’s one quarrel in which the South American powerhouse can offer, arguably, little more than a fluttered white flag: artisanal Italian ice cream, better known as gelato.
Nobody’s claiming that paulistanos don’t love ice cream: mass-produced sweet treats like Kibon, Bob’s soft serve and even Sottozero all do good business here. But in parts of Buenos Aires, you can’t kick a football down a street without hitting an heladaría that will undoubtedly serve the best, creamiest homemade gelato you’ve ever had. The brands Freddo, Volta and Persico come to mind, with the former boasting seven varieties of dulce de leche alone.
Here in São Paulo, finding an artisanal ice cream parlour can be trickier – albeit not impossible. Alaska, the oldest ice-cream parlour in São Paulo, opened in 1910; and one of the oldest gelatarias, Stuppendo, has been going strong in Moema since 1996. Mocotó, chef Rodrigo Oliveria’s beloved North-Eastern cuisine retreat in suburban Vila Medeiros, does a remarkable rapadura ice cream; but it’s all really just a drop in the ocean for such a sophisticated, food-obsessed city. What gives?
‘It’s very hard to say,’ says Nick Johnston, the co-owner of Bacio di Latte in Jardins, a new arrival on the gelato scene. ‘Both cities have a lot of Italian influence. We think both cities should have a similar gelato scenario, but in fact in Buenos Aires ice cream is huge, and in São Paulo, it’s almost non-existent.’
Ask around a little and you find that theories abound among paulistanos: that Brazil has more of a popsicle culture; that Brazilians don’t like eating cold things in winter or fattening foods in summer; and, of course, that artisanal ice cream is just too darned expensive. Camila Vasconcelos, co-owner of Stuzzi, another player in the new gelato generation devoted to Italian methods, has another theory: ‘For many years, the culture of ice cream in Brazil was dominated by the major industries, and they influenced people only to buy ice cream in summer,’ she says. ‘Also, because of them, people think that ice cream is just a dessert, and that it’s not nutritious and can’t be a healthy food. But nowadays, those ideas are changing.’
Signs of change began in 2007, when one of Brazil’s most famous French-born chefs, Laurent Suaudeau, opened Vipiteno Gelato & Caffé in Itaim Bibi. A year later, Alexandre Scabin, grandson of the fiercely traditional gelataio Vittorio Scabin, revived the family’s century-old recipes with instant, velvety-smooth success. Scabin opened the traditional Italian gelataria Stuzzi in Vila Madalena with Vasconcelos, his wife, and Stuzzi’s second location opened in February in Campo Belo. Meanwhile Freddo, Argentina’s most famous gelato brand, opened its first Brazilian branch in Brasília in December 2011, with São Paulo next in line.
Back at Bacio di Latte on a Saturday morning, Johnston and his Italian expat co-owner, Edoardo Tonolli, whisk fresh gelato between the gelato machines and the ice- cream cabinets, both imported from Italy along with all the special ingredients and even the serving spatulas. As if all that weren’t Italian enough, Tonolli even sold a 1976 Ferrari Daytona to drum up the capital for Bacio di Latte – now that’s amore. The result is gelato on a par not only with that of Buenos Aires, but of Milan too. Queues outside, sometimes even before the shop opens, are testament to the approval with which the new arrival is being greeted. ‘If you open a gelataria in Buenos Aires or in Italy, you’re just one of thousands,’ says Tonolli on Bacio di Latte’s early success. ‘Here, there are only three or four really nice gelatarias in the city, so it’s a bit like opening a really amazing churrascaria in Milan!’
Bacio di Latte is at Rua Oscar Freire 136, Jardim Paulista (3662 2573/baciodilatte.com.br).
Stuzzi Gelato Caffè is at Rua Paulistânia 450, Vila Madalena (3816 0279/stuzzi.com.br).
Vipiteno Gelato & Caffé is at Rua Manuel Guedes 85, Itaim Bibi; and at Shopping Marketplace, Morumbi (3476 1881/vipiteno.com.br).