Forest in summer
One of my favorite ice cream shops in Rome (it's Rome, you cannot have only one…) is Günther - Gelato Italiano, whose main branch resides very close to Trastevere neighborhood. I encountered it by chance, like any other good findings, and that visit which exposed me to its masterpiece made me return again and again. And again, of course.
It's all, in fact, the work of chef Günther Rohregger, a native of Caladro sulla Strada del Vino/Kaltern an der Weinstrasse, a small village with a big name around Bolzano, at Italy's far North just before Austria. After a career as a ski instructor and a carpenter, professions you might expect to find in such a snowy-rural area, Rohregger found himself mixing and creating ice cream in all types of flavors - classic but also unconventional - in Rome.
I usually get to Günther's after a food stroll around the city, and then comes the ritual: I ask my stroll-mates to taste the signature flavor of the place and tell me what they taste. In most cases, they cannot grasp exactly what they taste, so I help them to focus with guided imagery techniques: "You are not in Rome… You're on a field trip… You're in the scouts… You're standing in the wood of…"
And then it strikes them: "Wait! It's, it's… Pine tree?!" Yes, it's exactly what it is. Rohregger's childhood is based on Pine trees which cover the northern mountains. From these trees arrived the inspiration, and from the trees' needles and resin the flavors and aromas that he managed to extract and fold into an ice cream scoop.
What you see is what you get
Therefore the most obvious question I asked chef Rohregger in front of one of his gelato parlors on a very hot summer afternoon was "where do you draw the inspiration for the flavors from?"
"Well, practically from everywhere," Rohregger answers "it can be an idea that popped in my head, so I break it into components to find the best recipe for. Sometimes it begins as one ingredient and the flavor as a whole is built around it."
Günther's fridge changes every month, so during the winter you will find persimmons and pumpkin, and around Christmas we could taste a classic Panettone flavor, after the traditional northern holiday cake. Even before summer had hit Rome Rohregger expanded his chocolate range and offers more than 10 varieties: have you already tried chocolate and Gorgonzola? And mango? What about Amarena cherries?
Ho-ho-ho, merry Christmas!
Going deep into the matter, Rohregger explains that he kept the wide variety of chocolate just because summer fruit arrived very late this year. It's just that until recently there weren't good enough melons and watermelons this year to work with.
Watermelon so fresh I had to add it some Mojito
But don't worry! Under the same tone - and although it's the peak of the season - Rohregger promises that the coming autumn (many Romans already wish it to come already) will be filled with fruit: the short-seasoned and very sweet pears of Cesena, prickly pear and figs, only to make room for later citrus of all kinds that will follow during the winter.
In between Rohregger enjoys exploring "unconventional" flavors, to say the least, like the Roman Cacio-e-Pepe pasta or Ricotta cheese and Tuscan cigar, the latter spawned from a specific request for a smoked salmon ice cream oto be served in an event. After some experiments - that proved not to satisfy Rohregger - he decided to combine the smoked fish with soft smoked ice cream and cut through the creamy texture with lemon zest.
I had the privilege to taste the ice cream component of the dish some months ago, and I must tell you - it was staggering. On the good side of the term.
In a matter of fact, Rohregger defines two tendencies in the ice cream scene as he sees it:
The first one is "back to basics" - although at his gelato shops there are innovative flavors, to say the least, tourists tend to get confused from the variety and most of the time order classic flavors, like pistachio and hazelnuts, plain chocolate - of the highest quality - and vanilla or cream. In comparison, only a few will order more adventurous options.
The other one - and to my personal opinion the more exciting - is working closely with chefs and restaurateurs on pushing the borders of flavor to new areas, like the example of the smoked ice cream. And with more than one mind who work on that matter - there are no borders and the sky is the limit.
In any case, the flavors - classic and off-the-road ones - are straight forward but not aggressive. Onesti, as they say in Italian - honest.
Trying to challenge Rohregger I asked him if there's any flavor that he always dreamt of developing but for some reason haven't managed yet. The answer was very clear: "I have already around 800 recipes. If there's any flavor I think of - I will prepare it."
Much sharper and less surprising was his answer to the question if there's a flavor he will never create: "There isn't such a thing. Never say never."
A beautiful color palette
Günther was the only gelato maker in the past two Taste of Roma fairs, this food festival keeps the sense of high-level food and gathers the Michelin restaurants and chef from all around the city - together with other top-notch food figures and brands. Being the only gelato stand in such an event means a lot, and Günther will keep the tradition going and attend also this year's event. Being a part of this group of chefs gives the sense of exclusivity - only the ones that know will enter.
There are many gelato places in Rome, but there are very few good ones - even less at the city center. If you like to feel how it is to wander around a forest of pine trees or check the results of new experiments inside Rohregger's head, don't miss a visit at Günther's.