If visiting Tuscany and staying at Castello del Nero was not a dream in itself, as a part of our trip we visited near by town San Gimignano. Just think of picturesque Italian streets filled with buskers, small boutique leather shops, authentic Italian pizza pop ups and the prettiest rustic buildings.
Step by step, minute by minute, my heart started pounding faster. I think I was falling for Tuscany…
San Gimignano is a hilly town situated half way between Siena and and Florence. The small town is encircled by 13th century walls. It is famous for its medieval architecture and sky high towers that rise above all the surrounding buildings. There were at least 72 tower houses in San Gimignano’s family but only 14 of which are still standing. The town became an UNSECO World Heritage site back in the 1990’s and attracts many visitors every year, especially for the local produce including Saffron. Many local saffron farms are open to hosting visitors and giving them an experience they won’t forget. My friend Binny from Binny’s Kitchen had the pleasure of experiencing this.
The main reason we had visited San Gimignano for the day was to have a gelato making masterclass from a true expert, Sergio Dondoli. Sergio owns and runs the famous Tuscan Gelateria, Gelateria Dondoli. People come to San Gimignano just to have his gelato, which just speaks for itself.
Sergio had recently opened his first gelato making school too, which allowed us to have a wonderful masterclass with the man himself and his son, Stefano.
Sergio talked to us about this experience making gelato, from someone who has spend most of his life perfecting it to be the best, he holds the title of a champion Gelatician. The passion that shone out through him whilst he explained about his gelato was contagious.
Many Gelateria’s call themselves artesianal. However, it’s with great sadness to say that many are not. Over 300 ‘artesianal’ Gelateria’s exist in Tuscany alone, however only 20 of these are true to what they claim. Many of them use powder flavouring and food colouring to mimic what the gelato should taste like but isn’t actually made with real fruits.
Sergio takes pride in every one his gelato flavours, especially in that every single one has been made with the real ingredients to ensure the flavour is true and the colour is natural. Sergio commented that many people ask him why his Pistachio gelato is brown and not green? Apparently, pistachio gelato should be brown if the actual nuts are used. Where as many other Gelateria’s will falsely change the colour to a bright green using powders and flavourings to keep to the idealistic thoughts of their customers.
To see what went into making a batch of gelato, Sergio invited us around to the back of the counter to get stuck into making our own gelato. Stefano and I prepared some freshly harvested strawberries and lemons, whilst the girls started weighing out the various sugars required.
Each of the sugars had a particular scientific purpose that allowed the gelato to crystallise in a certain way and offering the right base to provide creamy and deliciously sweet gelato.
The best part about Sergio, even when he’s working or teaching people his charisma and good sense of humour always is present. I think he kept us laughing non-stop the whole day, which made it an even more enjoyable experience.
It was then my turn to weigh out the various milks that were required. These were then mixed together before putting it into an gelato pasteuriser, which would churn the mixture and take it down to a very low temperature making it slowly come together.
The first gelato we made was plain, with no fruits or other ingredients added. This was then mixed with some chocolate chips to make stracciatella gelato. It was definitely the best gelato i’ve ever had and my love handles live to tell the tale…
Next up was the strawberry gelato. Sergio used freshly harvest strawberries and blitzed them up, before taking a portion of wild strawberries that are 1/10th of the size of normal strawberries. The wild strawberries were used to produce a more intense colour and add more of a strawberry flavour and scent to the gelato. The strawberry puree was then mixed into the sugar/milk mixture before being pasteurised.
Straight from the pasteuriser into my mouth, the freshest it could be. I can definitely vouch for the fact it was the most authentic tasting strawberry gelato I have ever tasted – a real credit to Sergio.
The best thing about Sergio and his years of experience in making gelato is that he only makes enough of each flavour sold in his shop for 24hrs, so you can always guarantee fresh gelato every time you visit.
After a wonderful masterclass, we had the pleasure to visit Sergio’s gelato shop around the corner, even if we had already eaten our bodyweight in it. However, we decided to stop for some true Italian pizza first before indulging in more sweet treats.
The biggest slices of true Italian pizza were served in small pop ups on the side of streets. We visited PigLia pizza, where the slices were being sold between €1-3, which was an absolute steal for the best pizza around. I’m salivating just thinking about it…
Not forgetting the most prettiest group of people I had the pleasure to spend three days with. They definitely made the trip even more enjoyable.
We all agreed that we had to walk off the pizza before going back to get our second lot of Sergio’s gelato. We came across the most magical views that confirmed my earlier thoughts about wanting to buy a small house and living a happy life in Tuscany. Not only that, it was perfect timing too as there was a harpist playing his harp as we watched out across the beautiful green land. It definitely felt like we were in the scene of a rom-com film.
On the way back to Sergio’s shop, we popped in some Italian shops and picked up a few bits. I could not resist bringing home some Italian biscotti, my absolute weakness. Whilst others picked up some different pastas, wines and even some souvenirs for their loved ones back home.
We then wandered back to Gelateria Dondoli for our last taste of his wonderful gelato. It was there that we saw all the unique creations that Sergio had put together himself, such as Gorgonzola and nuts, Champelmo (sparkling pink grapefruit), raspberry and rosemary, cheese and olives and various other cool creations.
I had mint, coconut and champelmo on my cone. An interesting combination of flavours but equally all delicious in their own way. It was a perfect way to end an amazing trip to San Gimignano and experiencing some of Tuscany’s true delights.
Thank you to Sergio and Stefano for giving us a truly wonderful experience, it definitely one I will not forget for a very long time.
Until next time…
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