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Queues for ice cream are inevitable when the Parisian summer sun heats up the City of Light. But there’s a hidden corner of Paris where we can taste the highest quality Italian ice cream in style, right in the heart of Saint Germain-des-Prés.
Il Gelato del Marchese is tucked away on Rue des Quatre Vents, just behind the crossroads at Odéon in an area known as the Chocolate quarter, due to its high concentration of chocolate and pastry shops.
On passing this pristine golden and white ice-cream parlour after it opened in December 2014, I remember first gazing in the window, wondering if the caped gentleman at the counter was the Marchese or Marquis, with such an alluring air of mystery.
The mystery was unveiled when I was happy to meet the lively Marchese himself, Renato. Together with his wife, Veronika Squillante Montoro, the dynamic duo with savoir-flaire have created a luxury brand in the heart of Paris’s 6th arrondissement and it’s already taking off with a boutique newly opened in Saint Tropez, a new larger laboratory in construction near the Canal Saint Martin, a recipe book due to be published in October and many more surprises in store.
Now certified Vegan, Il Marchese’s ice creams and sorbets are all made with top quality healthy ingredients using mineral water, unrefined sugar, and no colourings or preservatives are in sight.
Veronika provides that extra touch of elegance with her choice of porcelain and delicate glasses to complete the plush furnishings.
Thanks to my friend, Maggie, who insisted I taste a selection of savoury ice creams before the sweet, as I would never have normally dared at teatime – would you? What a revelation! Spoonfuls of delectable savoury ice creams to tickle the senses arrived with water, but imagine tasting these on mini toasts with a glass of Champagne or Prosecco in hand: Tomato-Basil sorbet, Artichoke-Walnut Cream, Olives, and Mustard ice creams.
They also whip up the most incredible salmon ice cream which is not only good on small toasts as an aperitif, but they suggest mixing it into hot tagliatelle pasta, as with their parmesan ice cream.
My personal favourites were olive, imagining it on the terrace in Provence with a glass of chilled Rosé (a refreshingly cold tapenade sensation), and the mustard which, like my mini curry macarons from the savoury chapter in Mad About Macarons, it provokes a spicy-sweet tremble!
When I first tasted the Marchese’s pistachio ice cream last year just after the book launch of Teatime in Paris around the corner, I admit that it has been hard act to follow elsewhere. Using the finest quality pistachios from Iran, it’s not just its exquisite taste that hits the spot but if anyone knows how I shy away from anything that says pistachio without the right natural colour (see my previous blog article), you’ll understand how this is such an important factor too.
As the tasting continued, the Sencha green tea was recommended as an ideal partner with all the ice creams and sorbets, a special selection by La Confrérie du Thé.
New flavours appear sporadically according to season and creative artistic flair. The day I arrived, the menu selection was a traditional but tremendously tasty Tiramisu, to an unusual – slightly tart – Ricotta Cacao; then a crunchy passion fruit sorbet, with a finale of chocolate sorbet using 70% dark chocolate from Italian chocolate makers, Domori, based in None – all served with the most delicate (albeit sweet) Chantilly cream, Matcha green tea cakes, light ginger biscuits, and mini cornets.
The Marchese’s ice-creams pop up around Paris at the most luxurious addresses, such as at the Italian Embassy, Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and now they have a pop-up boutique at La Grande Epicerie, part of Bon Marché’s Rive Gauche chic department store until 22 August, where I hear the Pear and Ceylon Cinnamon sorbet is melting customers.
Artisanal cones (cornets) are made on the spot. I never normally choose a cone but when they’re as good as this all the way until the last crunchy bite with its hint of honey, I’m not just going for a plain little paper tub to carry out!
I couldn’t resist popping in for another dose with the family; this time pure sorbet in the weekend heat – a taste of mango and their new Detox Vegetal sorbet. It reminded me of what Renato said:
It’s more than ice-cream; it creates an emotion.
I found myself giggling at such a surprise concoction of predominant cucumber and apple, with cheeky hints of lemon and ginger – were there herbs in there too? You have to try this refreshing cocktail and tell me what you think are the ingredients!
To finish off your afternoon, walk up Rue de Condé to the Luxembourg gardens and sit at the Medici Fountain to complete the luxury taste of Italy in Paris.
Update 31 May 2016: Il Gelato del Marchese ice creams are now also available on the Champs-Elysées Terrace of the Hotel Marriott.
Il Gelato del Marchese
Italian ice-cream parlour/tea room or take away
3, rue des Quatre Vents
Tel: 01 46 34 75 63
Open every day: 12 noon – midnight
It happened again. I recently caught myself wincing at a teatime menu’s English version. This time it was in one of Paris’s most elegant tea salons, where the famously stylish Parisian “macaron” was translated as “macaroon”.
I know, it’s not one of the world’s first problems, but get it right.
While Macarons and macaroons perhaps sound alike, they are both totally different.
Macarons vs Macaroons
This confusion with an extra “o” is nothing new; it happens frequently, whether it’s on a top tearoom menu in Paris or on high-end supermarket packaging around the world. Even a UK bookshop snootily turned down stocking my first book five years ago, simply because the title read “Macarons” and not “Macaroons”. It’s a subject that has been raised often, but the same mistake continues like a couple of crêpes on deaf ears.
I’m perhaps mad about macarons, but if you’re just as infatuated with Paris’s Ambassador of Pastry, with its smooth delicate meringue-like shells sandwiched together with chocolate ganache, jam, curd or buttercream, its name needs to be defended. I’m not being posh or trying to show off I can speak some French after 24 years of living here – it’s just that the term, macaron is the right word to use to describe these little filled rainbow-coloured Parisian confections.
Over the last four years of guiding pastry tours in Paris, I’m still surprised by the recurring question: “So what’s the difference between macarons and macaroons?”
Food lovers are evidently still puzzled. How on earth can two deliciously dainty confections create such mystery?
The only similarity between the two is their gluten-free mutual ingredients of egg whites and sugar; a macaron includes ground almonds (almond flour), whilst a macaroon is made with coconut.
So let’s get it straight with the simplest answer: the macaron is meringue-based and the macaroon is coconut based.
But there’s more to it than that.
What is a Macaron?
Macarons date back to the middle ages but we have a better idea of its history during the Renaissance – first cited by French writer Rabelais – when the Venetian macarone (meaning a fine paste of something crushed) of ground almonds, egg whites and sugar was brought to France by Catherine de Medici and her chefs when she married the future King of France in 1533, Henri II. It was a meringue-like biscuit but a much rougher looking type of confection, predominantly tasting of almonds and looking rather like an amaretti biscuit.
In France, the macaron’s super-model upgrade wasn’t made famous until the 1900s. This is the modern smooth, coloured macaron as we know it today, that’s now creating the confusion, known as the Parisian or Gerbet macaron. Ernest Ladurée’s second cousin, Pierre Desfontaines takes the credit for inventing these sandwiched confections – although this calls for yet more delicious, historical homework. Most importantly, a macaron is not a Parisian macaron unless it has a ruffled, frilly foot underneath that smooth, shiny surface.
French Regional Macaron Varieties
But even the macaron can be a confusing term today, as there are also many French regional varieties using the same ingredients as the Parisian macaron but the proportions are completely different. Each resemble more the original Italian macaron introduced by Catherine de Medici and many date back to around the French Revolution. Each region adds its own twist and, as a result, they all look so different (check out just some of the variations here).
For example, in Picardy, the Amiens macaron speciality adds marzipan, fruits and honey. Other prize-winning French regional macarons continue today in Boulay, Chartres, Cormery, Le Dorat, Joyeuse, Montmorillan (more like an round almond cakes – see above. Here there’s also a Macaron Museum!), Nancy, Saint-Émilion, Saint-Croix, Saint-Jean-de-Luz (created for Louis XIV’s wedding in 1660) and Sault.
What is a Macaroon?
Simpler and quicker to prepare, the coconut macaroon is also known as rocher coco or congolais in French. Sometimes the macaroon confection with shredded or flaked coconut – either star or cone-shaped – is dipped in chocolate.
It’s not clear when macaroons came on the scene but one thing is for sure: it was added to this gluten-free treat around the 1800s when coconut was brought from the East.
Just pronouncing macaroon makes us want to roll the “r” like we do in Scotland – and it’s no coincidence that us Scots are proud of the Scottish Macaroon bar: it’s particularly sweet since the fondant inside is primarily sugar and potato (trust the Scots to think of that one!) and coated with a thin layer of chocolate and coconut. I wonder if Catherine de Medici’s successor, Mary Queen of Scots as French queen brought it in her year-long reign as Queen of France?
Last Christmas I adapted the large traditional bar to make these mini Scottish Macaroon bar snowballs. If you want to see the real thing, head over to Christina Conte’s blog at Christina’s Cucina to see how to make the real McCoy bars!
To puzzle us further, there’s yet another exception to the rule of almonds and coconut: there are plenty of macaroon recipes outside of France which use pie crust or pastry as a base and the macaroon reference is a mixture of coconut and/or almond toppings. For example, see this recipe for macaroon jam tarts.
Macarons vs Macaroons
So before the confusion spreads any further between such differences between macarons and macaroons, let’s nip it in the bud. In all their varying forms, the macaroon refers to the coconut confection; the macaron today, unless a regional version is mentioned, refers to the Parisian or Gerbet macaron – the shiny, dainty version. Just don’t forget its frilly foot, otherwise it’s not a Parisian macaron.
Now it’s your turn to spread the macaron word – or is it a macaroon?
This article was originally published for BonjourParis.com