A Cheese-Gelato in Paradise…

(Jimmy Buffet, anyone?)

Presidents’ Day is an interesting holiday. Truth be told, I never paid attention to it when I was younger. In Massachusetts, we always had our February vacation the week of Presidents’ Day. And with no parades or decorations, I’m sad to say that the holiday was simply absorbed into the rest of vacation week. Of course, this all changed when I entered the workforce. These days, I look forward to Presidents’ Day as a chance to escape the harsh D.C. winter and catch some rays in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

My boyfriend first visited Rio de Janeiro about six years ago during a family vacation – and he fell head-over-heels in love (this was before he met me, of course). Now, he can’t stay away from the city. In fact, I will always remember our first Valentine’s Day together; dinner was cut short because he had to catch the red-eye flight to Rio that night. Little did I know that I’d be accompanying him soon enough…

View from the Sheraton

Rio is a special place. It lives up to its reputation as a party-town with beautiful beaches and beautiful people. The famed Carnival takes place in February, but we tend to miss it – which is a good thing! The party never stops in Rio de Janeiro; it’s simply more crowded and more rowdy during Carnival. And hotel rooms become impossibly expensive that week. The boyfriend often spends hotel points to book a room at the Sheraton Rio Hotel & Resort. The Sheraton is situated at the west end of Rio’s famous beach; quieter and more spacious than hotels downtown, but still within sight and walking distance from the famous Ipanema Beach.

Famous Ipanema Beach

Last weekend was a perfect mix of fun and relaxation. We stayed active by walking through the city and swimming in the ocean. The boyfriend took it a step further, going for a run along the beach every morning. Me? I hit the gym – for about 15 minutes. I was more concerned with reading books on my Kindle and drinking cocktails by the beach. I’m a big fan of caipirinhas – the local cocktail made with lime, sugar, ice and cachaça (sugar cane liquor that reminds me of rum). And Rio is the only place I’ve been where you can actually order cocktails on the beach. Tourists and locals alike rent beach chairs and umbrellas from the dozens of vendors lined up along the beach. Your vendor then periodically walks around taking drink orders, returning minutes later with your coconut water, soda, beer, or caipirinha. The best part? Everything is reasonably priced! The boyfriend and I would spend less than $20US per day on two chairs, an umbrella, coconut waters, his beers, and my caipirinhas.

No tropical paradise would be complete without ice cream, right? When I first visited Rio, I discovered that it’s harder to find ice cream here than in most beach cities. There are more frozen yogurt shops than traditional ice cream ones. I’m not sure why this is, but it may have something to do with Rio’s health-conscious culture? Anyways, Sorvete Itália appears to be the ubiquitous ice cream brand in Rio. Their ice cream and popsicles are found in grocery stores, quickmarts, beach-side snack carts, and in their own stores. Sorvete Itália has over a dozen shops in Rio; the one we visited one night after dinner was located in the touristy Ipanema neighborhood.

Outside & inside views

Sorvete Itália pays homage to Italy in both their products and decor. Their trademark is gelato, but they’re also well-known for great sorbets and fancy popsicles. And their storefronts are inviting and fun, decorated with tile mosaics in the colors of the Italian flag. But many of the gelato flavors, on the other hand, are uniquely Brazilian. Some that caught my eye: Banana Caramelada (caramelized banana), Doce de Leite com Coco (coconut dulce de leche), and Manga com Gengibre (mango ginger sorbet). But the strangest of all was Queijo (cheese). Yes, my translation is accurate. This isn’t cheesecake flavor; it’s cheese. I wasn’t in the mood for cheese, so I went with Macadamia Crocante (macadamia crunch) and Tapioca. The boyfriend, on the other hand, simply couldn’t pass up the chance to order cheese gelato. He’s such a cheese-fan, you’d think he was from Wisconsin.

Macadamia/Tapioca on the left; Cheese on the right

The verdict? I winced while I watched the staff scoop out the gelato; it looked way too soft! Gelato is not supposed to be as firm as traditional ice cream, but this seemed almost melted. Sorvete Itália’s shop had an open storefront, and the deep freezer case was no match for the humid heat of Rio. But what this gelato lacked in firmness, it made up in flavor and textures. The Macadamia Crocante had a rich caramel-tasting base with swirls of caramelized macadamia nuts. It reminded me a lot of Georgetown Candy Co.’s Butter Brittle; satisfying but not life-shatteringly good. The Tapioca scoop in the bottom of my cup, however, blew my mind. The gelato base was sweet and coconut-y, but what set this flavor apart was the abundance of tapioca beads in each bite. I don’t how they did it, but these tapioca beads were soft and chewy – not frozen solid. I must figure out how to recreate this at home, as I’ve never seen this favor in the States. I couldn’t get enough of it. On the other hand, I’d be okay never tasting cheese-flavored ice cream again. The boyfriend loved his Queijo, which had a sweet cream base and little bits of cheese mixed throughout. Traditional Brazilian “queijo” is a mild cheese made from cow’s milk – but I can’t stomach it in my ice cream. I’m shuddering just remembering it. Let’s just say, this was the first time I didn’t pester the boyfriend for more “tastes” of his ice cream. To each their own, right?

The Stats:
Sorvete Itália
Multiple locations in Rio de Janeiro
www.sorveteitalia.com