Hooray! It’s summer in the UK and that means holidays, sun cream, sunglasses, al-fresco dining and pub gardens. But do you know what Germans like to do on those long hot summer days? I’ll give you a clue – it’s cold and really delicious! In Germany, there seems to be more gelaterias than pubs! Most towns and villages will have one on every street corner. Germans really do like their ice-cream and will often cycle or walk to a gelateria to indulge in a delicious sundae.
I certainly love celebrating summer by spending as much time outdoors as possible and I particularly enjoy it when the cafés and restaurants use their outside space and decorate it nicely to tempt passers-by.
The history of the German-Italian ice-cream places
I must admit, no nation can make better ice-cream than the Italians! Our love affair with this Italian speciality started after the Second World War when many Italians came to Germany to work in the coal and steel industries. The Italians soon discovered that the Germans were quite partial to the hand-made ice-cream that had been handed down through the generations. It wasn’t long before the first gelaterias opened their doors for everyone to enjoy their delicious ice-cream.
In April 2017, I met Claudio Camerin, the founder and proud owner of Eiscafe Pia, a traditional gelateria located in Kasernenstrasse, Düsseldorf. The café has been a family-run ice-cream place since 1971, with Claudio taking over the business in 1980. He learnt a traditional method of making ice-cream from his wife’s uncle. He told me that the recipes, which were mostly written on a typewriter, were well-kept secrets in most Italian villages – especially the Dolomite region of Italy where many Italian ice-cream makers originate from. Sadly, Uncle Gino passed away in 2015 at the age of 82 but Claudio proudly continues with this ice-cream tradition. He has got to know his regular customers over the years and knows most of their individual preferences!
It all started with just 10 flavours
Nowadays, we are definitely spoilt for choice. It’s incredible how many different flavour combinations are available and many clients expect new and innovative flavours every year. Claudio explained that when they first started, they only had 10 flavours – like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, hazelnut and lemon. Nowadays, they have 28 flavours, 25 being his core flavours and three that will regularly change. In the summer, it’s not unusual to queue for between 30 minutes to an hour just to take away your favourite cone or sundae!
Only the best ingredients go into the ice-cream
When I asked Claudio where he got his ideas from for the new flavours, he told me that he attends ice-cream trade fairs in the Dolomite region. Here, he could meet suppliers and discover the latest ingredients and equipment on the market. He explained that the best Pistachios come from Sicily and that over 90% of the ingredients come from Italy.
The nut paste, for example, comes from Piedmont. Claudio’s most recent invention was called Paloma, which tastes of raspberry cake! Other tempting flavours included the Oreo cookie, Raffaelo (white) and Snickers. In terms of ingredients, he said that decades ago it was normal to use tinned fruit for a fruit sundae, whereas nowadays, fresh fruit is mostly used.
The Spaghetti ice-cream Sundae – my all-time favourite
One of my favourite sundaes is the Spaghetti ice-cream Sundae made from vanilla ice-cream in the shape of spaghetti, whipped cream and a strawberry sauce. This one is particularly popular with Claudio’s customers! The Fruit Sundae, Yoghurt Sundae, Lasagne ice-cream Sundae and the traditional Italian Tartufo are also very popular.
Summer means hard work and long hours
Having worked in a gelateria when I was a teenager to earn some pocket money, I know just how exhausting it can be. My choice of shoes went from fashionable to comfortable! Claudio starts his day at 6.30am to make the ice-cream before he opens at 10am. His gruelling schedule runs 7 days a week through the spring and summer and then he shuts the Eiscafe in mid-October until mid-February.
Claudio showed me the kitchen and I was really impressed with how immaculate and clean it looked. One thing he learnt from Uncle Gino was “Mira commando!” meaning ‘Be careful!’ Basically, cleanliness, cleanliness and cleanliness is paramount when making ice-cream. He also explained that in Italy, it’s no longer allowed to pile up the ice-cream in the containers on the counter. I always thought it looked appealing like this but apparently if there is a lump of ice-cream on top, it isn’t cold enough.
The team is like family
Claudio employs around 10 people in the high season and is very proud of his team. I met two of them while I was there. They told me what a wonderful boss Claudio is and how much they enjoyed working there. One employee, Felicia kindly sent me some fantastic pictures of the ice-cream shop from years ago. Thank you for that, Felicia!
The reinvention of the German-Italian gelateria
Over the last few years, ice-cream makers have invented some quite unique flavours using ingredients like goat or sheep’s milk, cola, wildflowers or rhubarb.
The design of the gelaterias is also undergoing a revolution. They are marketed more as a gourmet establishment with a quirky style with the emphasis being much more on organic ice-cream.
The German-Italian version of Mr Whippy
When I was a child in the eighties, I remember the ice-cream van coming around our estate selling Italian ice-cream – just like Mr Whippy does in the UK. It was always so exciting and it created a similar hectic dash for loose change to treat ourselves to a delicious ice-cream cone. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across one of these ice-cream vans in Germany for many years, but I’d love to know if they still exist. So, please let me know if you’ve spotted one recently.
Summer time is ice-cream time
If you’re heading off to Germany for your summer holiday, do pay a visit to one of the many gelaterias. I’d love to hear your comments and what your favourites are! I’m also interested to know whether you’ve come across any unusual places.
Other than Eiscafe Pia, I was also really impressed with Caffe e Gelato in Postdamer Platz, Berlin. They had a fantastic selection of flavours and some incredibly delicious sundaes. So, enjoy your next ice-cream treat and have a great summer!