Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Summer is around the corner, which means cones dripping with ice cream will soon be the rule and not the exception, although with me, it could be 20 degrees below outside and as long as I'm warm and toasty inside, ice cream would still be my favorite sweet treat. To jump start ice cream season, I set up a gelato and sorbet tasting for my dining group at Paciugo Gelato in Hermosa Beach owned and run by daughter and mother team, Brittny Thacker and Monien Ibarra, respectively. Before I talk about the 9 flavors we sampled, let me tell you a little bit about Paciugo Gelato.
Paciugo Gelato is one of more than 20 locations in the US and was started by Cristiana and Ugo Ginatta. Cristiana apprenticed at a four-generation gelataria before the family moved to Dallas where they opened their first gelato caffe in 2000. Paciugo pronounced "pah-CHOO-go" in an Italian dialect from Portofino cheekily means "messy concoction" but the ice cream that is served by Paciugo is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
Imported Italian ingredients, machinery and technique are used to replicate fourth-generation Italian recipes that came from Ginatta's and Vincenzo's home cities of Turin and Milan. Currently, close to 250 recipes have been developed since then, with 30 to 38 flavors of freshly made gelato offered in each store daily. Other things to note are that Paciugo Gelato have no preservatives and doesn't include cream or butter in their recipes, which means that their fat content is only 3.5%. Their milk-based gelatos is between 50% to 70% lower in fat than most premium ice creams while their sorbets are fat free.
Now that you the scoop (I know, I know. I couldn't resist) about Paciugo Gelato, let me tell you about the tasting event I set up with them. First and foremost, it was really difficult to narrow down to 9 flavors from over 200 to choose from. It was insane. They had some really unique combinations and I was definitely going back and forth for a while. Finally, I settled on 4 sorbets and 5 gelatos.
Our first taste of Paciugo came in the form of a Lime Cilantro Sorbet. Taking a peek at it, the cilantro definitely showed up for the party; however, the lime completely overwhelmed the cilantro to the point that I couldn't taste it. Still, this sorbet was quite refreshing and would be a great palate cleanser in between courses of a multi-course meal.
Usually, the second flavor would be something to be paired with Mexican food or on its own at a bar or party, but not in this case. I present you with the Beer Chill Sorbet, made with Corona Beer and Lime. At first, the beer taste was quite prominent, but it lessened after a few more spoonfuls. Fun to try just for the sake of trying, but not something I'd have again.
Up to bat next was the Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar Sorbet. At first, I didn't "get" this flavor. The strawberry was prominent on the tastebuds, but that wasn't the case with the balsamic vinegar; however, after a few more tastes, I did "get" it. The role of the balsamic vinegar was to add a depth and roundess of flavor to the strawberry. Even the sweetest strawberry can still have a bit of a tang to it, but the balsamic vinegar did its job and masked it for this sorbet.
Fourth in line was the Lime Chili Mango Sorbet. Eating this sorbet was like eating mangos from a Mexican fruit cart that had lime squeezed on it and was sprinked with either chili powder or had hot sauce poured over it. It was an interesting eat of cold ice cream paired with a combination of tangy and spicy flavors. I'd order this again in a heart beat.
Our fifth offering was the Mediterranean Sea Salt Caramel Gelato. This particular gelato is a customer favorite, but it didn't do much for me. It seemed too one note and I honestly can't even explain what I mean by that. It was just simply okay.
More than halfway there and it was time for the Sweet Corn Thorntree Honey Gelato. This particular gelato was not a universal favorite of the group. I kept hearing the words "Creamed Corn" when referring to this flavor. Corn is actually a popular Filipino ice cream flavor and for me, being Filipina, this gelato was familiar and much appreciated.
The remaining three gelatos were the most unique of the bunch starting with the Violet Chocolate Chip Gelato. It's hard for me to describe what this gelato tasted like. Of course, it had floral notes to it and maybe, a slight peppery flavor? The addition of the dark chocolate chips added a bitter sweetness which I thought added another interesting component to this gelato and one I enjoyed.
What came next was my absolute favorite gelato of this tasting and it was the Black Pepper Olive Oil Gelato. Oh my! Black pepper in ice cream may seem like a strange ingredient, but it worked for me. What was nice was that it wasn't overdone. It's not as if you could see the gelato drowning in black pepper flakes, but there was enough to give a kick in flavor that still lingered on your palate even after eating the entire cup.
Last, but not least was the Chocolate Coconut Curry Gelato. This was easily my second favorite gelato and it was simply fantastic. Prevalent in this gelato was garam masala mixed with coconut milk and Belgium chocolate. With every spoonful, there was a bevy of spices tripping the light fantastic on my palate. Perhaps cardammon? Nutmeg? Cinnamon? I hadn't a real clue, but one thing was clear. It left a lasting impression. Even now, I could almost taste that gelato at the tip of my tongue.
Overall, our time at Paciugo Gelato was a lot of fun. I enjoyed tasting the various sorbets and gelatos that we sampled for our tasting. Unfortunately, I don't live close to their Hermosa Beach location, but Paciugo Gelato is definitely a place I'd recommend that locals and visitors alike should check out for themselves.
To see all the pics, go to:
Paciugo Gelato Caffe
1034 Hermosa Avenue
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254