Updated: Feb 7
Gelato that makes me lust for another scoop before I’ve finished the first- that’s basically what I’m searching for at all times when in Italy.
So when I met my new friend Antonella, a local in a seaside village called Peschici in the “spur” of Italy’s boot, I asked her where I could find the best gelateria. She had already tipped me off to the best hidden restaurant, best hidden beach, and a contact who leads nature excursions on horseback. She responded to my probe about gelato as one might in the movies..“Oh, my fiancé has a gelateria. It’s the best in town. You should stop by after dinner tonight.”
Of course he does! (And of courrrrse I’ll stop by!)
Now between this moment and the 20+ flavors I forced myself to sample (ha!), I had two other incredible experiences (which you can read about here) meeting an 87-year old fisherman and eating at an open-air restaurant facing the sunset on a cliff. And even after the hour of gelato-sampling and learning, I stumbled upon a group of young people who invited me to pull up a chair to their middle-of-the-street hangout. It might have been the most meaningful travel day I’ve had!
But anyway, let’s get to the gelato, shall we? Iginio (that’s Antonella’s fiancé, now husband!) runs Gelateria Pinagel with his mom, Giuseppina. But the gelato shop takes its roots from a history of 100 years of gelato-making in their family, even back when it had to be done entirely by hand. In between sampling licks of hazelnut and chocolate, I asked them a few questions to learn more about what goes into such truly amazing and award-winning gelato! Check it out below..
Me with Iginio and Giuseppina after tasting every flavor and interviewing them.
So, what makes a GREAT gelato?
To make a great gelato, you need milk, time, and top-quality ingredients. But you also need to give it a lot of attention and respect.
How do you find good ingredients?
You search for them. We find local fruit producers, for example, who don’t use chemicals, and even then, we only select the best from the crop. We use whatever fruit or ingredients are in season.
How has the gelateria changed throughout the years?
Right after the war, in 1918, my grandfather (who had been injured in the war), wanted to get married, have a family, and support it by opening a cafe with a gelateria. But in that period, cafes had only 2-4 flavors and there weren’t yet machines to help make the gelato. So we made it at home by hand. We used goat’s milk then and had tubs with ice that we’d turn and slowly make gelato. But that was a long time ago.
Even before our gelateria, my grandfather and mother would always make gelato, so I grew up watching the way they did it. But in that time it was even harder to find quality ingredients. For example, if you wanted to make a really good pistacchio flavor, you had to go to Sicily to get the pistacchi (plural for pistachio!).
At the time, my uncle had a cafe and sold some gelato but never like our gelato. This is because we decided to specialize just in gelato and leave the cafe aspect behind. Given the tradition of gelato in our family, this felt like the right choice. In 1984, we opened Gelateria Pinagel.
Where does the name come from?
“Pina” is short for my name Giuseppina, and “gel” is short for gelato..Pinagel!
What is your favorite flavor?
Same as the whole family- Gianduiotto (creamy hazelnut + chocolate). Our Gianduiotto flavor won as the best in Turin (northern Italy). Back then we didn’t have so many flavors as we do now.
But there were the principle flavors that we’ve maintained, such as Crema degli Angeli (Cream of the Angels). It’s very slow to make- cooked over a fire and hand-stirred. Other traditional flavors that we still make are nocciola (hazelnut), crema (cream), bacio (a chocolate + hazelnut candy), gianduiotto, torrone di mandorle (almond), and noce (nuts).
You also have some of the most creative flavors I’ve seen. What are some flavors you’ve invented that are not traditional?
Stracciatella d’arancia (orange chocolate chip), Stracciatella di pistacchio (Pistacchio chip), and Fior di ceci (chickpea, fig, and pear).
How many cones and cups do you sell in one day?
Oh my goodness, no..we’ve never counted! In the summer, we serve gelato all day long without stopping!
Well, they’ve never counted, but we sure did! They said in the summer, they sell out the entire gelateria each day. In each gelato bin, there are approximately 35 cups of gelato.
They have 24 flavors. So that’s about 840 cups or cones of gelato served each day! Wow!
I’m so excited to share this experience with others.
On our Secrets of Southern Italy trip, we stop by Gelateria Pinagel for a gelato workshop to learn for ourselves how to make artisanal gelato, as refined from over 100 years of practice!
There are still a few spots left as I write this, but I can’t promise they’ll still be there by the time you read it, so check it out and grab your spot!
See you there!