Undisputed joy of visiting Italy is their treat of ice cream, as Italian gelato is concoted from scratch and handed down through generations.
"I put together all the ingredients myself," says Maria Agnese Spagnuolo. "There's no way I would buy powders or extracts. I work with raw materials."
AdvertisementSpagnuolo, 42, boasts three gelaterias in Rome under the banner Fatamorgana, having opened her first in 2003 with the help of a loan from the city.
Clearly, working from scratch allows boundless creativity.
Spagnuolo's head-spinning flavours, both sweet and savoury, have names like Greek Baklava, Aphrodite (celery and lime), Wasabi (chocolate and horse radish) and Kentucky (coffee and tobacco).
"Two flavours come together and create a third," she said, her intense blue eyes twinkling. "I hope to offer a little more than ice cream, a little love."
One flavour mixing fennel, honey and licorice has a secret name, Kama Sutra, which she leaves off the label for fear of embarrassing parents with children in tow.
As if speaking for the world on a hot summer's day in Rome, Spagnuolo said: "Ice cream has always been my passion, since I was a little girl."
Around 1,000 customers flock to her shop in northeastern Rome's Africano quarter each day.
A first scoop of Fatamorgana gelato -- far less calorific than store-bought ice cream -- costs two euros (three dollars), plus 50 cents for each additional scoop.
"I come here every day," one customer said while making a selection. "It's my midday meal, refreshing and nourishing."
Spagnuolo's guru is Claudio Torce, the grandson of a pastry chef who says he has "sugar in my DNA".
Torce, 46, presides over an array of some 100 flavours, many of them savoury, at his ice cream parlour, named simply Il Gelato.
Would you believe baloney-pistachio, mushroom omelette, tuna and tomato, gorgonzola or basil?
He also has some boozy concoctions using sherry, Madeira and Gewurztaminer, and no fewer than 20 chocolate varieties.
Torce rails against ice cream makers who claim to be artisanal but who actually use semi-prepared ingredients bought from suppliers.
"I make three gelati in an hour, compared with about 10 with an industrial mix that only requires adding milk or water," he said. "The only hope is that consumers read the list of ingredients and spot the colourings, flavourings and stabilisers."
These are posted by law, even if the print is tiny, at all gelaterias, while the label "artigianale" (artisanal) has no legal protection.
"Artisanal does not mean opening a tin, it means working with your hands," Torce huffed.
Artisanal ice cream accounts for 58 percent of the Italian market, with an average per capita consumption of 12 litres (quarts) a year, according to Alberto Pica, president of Italy's Ice Cream Makers Association.
Romans and visitors to the Italian capital put away half again as much, said Pica, 72, whose gelateria offers a Manna flavour using the sap of a variety of ash tree that grows in southern Calabria and Sicily.
"Rich in vitamins and low in calories," Pica said, insisting that it helped children grow.
Officially, Italy counts some 34,500 artisanal ice cream makers, but Pica laments that many "are happy to make medium quality ice cream using fruit syrup, for the tourists."
Pica boasts 89-year-old Giulio Andreotti among his customers, saying the former prime minister thinks his macadamia nut-flavoured Love Gelato is "to die for" and has it delivered to his home.