Sorbetto di Carciofo
Cerda is a remarkably un-picturesque Sicilian town in the middle of some of the most stunning Italian countryside you are likely to find. A little deviation off the main highway will wind you through a hilly green terrain, with gigantic rocky outcrops and cliffs towering above cloud level.
Cerda does not live up to it’s surroundings and arriving into Cerda is a little disappointing if you are expecting a lovely rustic and romantic town to spend a weekend. Like many Italian towns, it has grown over time to service the growing number of inhabitants and not much attention has been paid to planning or aesthetics. Instead the main piazza in Via Roma is lined with large groups of old men who play cards alongside a petrol pump.
The highlight of this Piazza is Extrabar Cappadonia. This humble bar and gelateria, in a town no tourist would visit, is the headquarters of one of Italy’s prize winning master gelato makers, Antonio Cappadonia. We turned up without any notice and were looking forward to a new and innovative treat using the local artichoke for a sweet confection.
I announced to the young guy behind the counter that we had come especially for the artichoke gelato. His face went into shock mode, he stepped back awkwardly and he apologized that there wasn’t any “at the moment”.
“GREAT” I thought.
“What the hell are we doing in this Cerda then?” “What about the master Cappadonnia, is he in?”
“No he’s not and I’m not sure where he is.”
Also good news! It found out that the young man was the master’s godson. He tried to console us by offering us a taste of the pistachio gelato made from the famous Bronte pistachio nuts. He had no idea what my mission was, so pistachio was not going to cut it.
One of my main objectives for visiting Sicily was for an artichoke gelato and to meet the mastermind behind it but a minute after entering his bar, I was disappointed on both counts. Was I going to leave empty handed? We sat down and contemplated the next move. I couldn’t even enjoy the pistachio gelato so I just hung around and squeezed as much information from the master’s godson.
After noticing how insistent and keen I was for info, he said that he could probably find a little out the back but it wasn’t enough to put on display for sale. He disappeared out the back and came back with about a litre of rock solid -22 degrees C artichoke gelato. We waited a while for it to thaw a little before he attacked it with his scooping palette, massaging it into life.
We tried it together, evaluated the taste, which I am usually terrible at but I could certainly discern a few different levels of flavour. As it touched my tongue it felt light, zingy, tangy then cooling, like menthol and not creamy at all so I worked out it was a sorbet and not a gelato. There was a hint of slightly bitter artichoke flavour as an aftertaste so in that sense it is unique and unmistakable. It has no eggs or milk so it doesn’t leave your mouth with a creamy coating, rather it is super refreshing and actually thirst quenching.
Apparently the prime motivator for the master to experiment with artichokes and gelato was that his dad was a grower and a supplier, of the local artichoke. The father sat at the cash register and I probed him for some inside information but he just complained that the younger generation wasn’t prepared to do the hard work of growing them anymore. pfff. He did say that the artichoke gelato was really a playful experiment and it was a lot of fussing around finding organic artichokes and reducing them to an essence or tonic for the flavouring. At the next artichoke festival in Cerda on the 25th April the gelato is unlikely to feature, making me think the artichoke gelato’s days might be numbered.
Is it worth the trip to Cerda? Not really; but if you are taking a leisurely drive around Sicily and happen to be in the area, it’s worth the detour as you’ll drive through dramatically beautiful land, which in spring is studded with pretty patches of colour.
The master did win first prize for the best Gianduia gelato in Italy so that could be worth stopping for.