Monday, January 25, 2010

Ice Cream Capital of the Americas

Buenos Aires summers are hot, wet and sticky - today, the temperature reached 87° F (about 30° C) with 74 percent humidity, and neither figure has changed significantly as the sun goes down. I’ve never spent a summer on the Eastern Seaboard, but I’m guessing this is what John Sebastian was singing about in the Lovin’ Spoonful classic “Summer in the City.”

My apartment here lacks air-conditioning, but it’s got something even better. At the end of December, when I arrived in town for the first time since September, I was thrilled - and appalled - to find that Jauja, one of Argentina’s two or three best ice creameries in my opinion, had opened a branch (pictured above), just one short block from my apartment in Palermo.

Argentine helado comes from the Italian tradition, and more closely resembles soft creamy gelato than it does the denser U.S.-style of ice cream (though sorbets are also common, mostly with fruit flavors). Chains such as Chungo, which has many branches around town, can be very good, but the best are shops that produce custom flavors in relatively small batches. My personal favorite is Cadore (pictured here), which has a single inconspicuous location at the corner of Avenida Corrientes and Rodriguez Peña, a few blocks north of the Congreso Nacional - the chocolate amargo (bittersweet chocolate) and mousse de limon (lemon mousse) are exquisite (and go well together).

But back to Jauja. It is, I guess, something of a chain, but that’s all relative. Jauja began in the Patagonian hamlet of El Bolsón, (pictured here) in Río Negro province, and still produces all its ice cream there (though it has a couple retail outlets in San Carlos de Bariloche, 120 km to the north, and another in Villa la Angostura in Neuquén province, 80 km farther on). It then trucks the product more than 1,700 km (about 1,050 miles) to Buenos Aires. Despite those transport costs, Jauja is actually a little cheaper than Chungo.

Unlike Cadore, which is fiercely traditional in its flavors - and all the better for it - Jauja experiments with oddities such as calafate (a Patagonian berry) made with sheep’s milk, mate cocido (made from Argentines’ favorite infusion, resembling green tea), and even crema de maní (peanut) and cerveza (beer, as El Bolsón is famous for its hops and local brews).

As I suggested above, I’m thrilled to have Jauja so close to my apartment, but I’m also appalled. Cadore is always a temptation, but it’s halfway across town. Jauja is so close that I have to restrain myself whenever I have an urge to enjoy my favorite dessert. That’s not easy when this week’s temperatures are projected to remain in the high eighties.

Despite the quality and diversity of the ice cream here, Argentines remain relatively conservative in their tastes. According to a recent article in the daily Clarín, 18 percent of Argentines prefer dulce de leche, the sickly sweet caramelized milk flavor that they often devour straight out of the jar in its non-frozen form. The next most popular is strawberry, with only six percent, followed by chocolate.


Matt said...

Best ice-cream place in Buenos Aires...this is a discussion that can lead to blows. My favourite place by far is a little shop called Wimpy on Rivadavia a block up from Parana on Plaza de los 2 Congresos. It has the best, best, best frutilla al agua I have ever had and the chocolate africano is also amazing. I used to own a flat in that big old French style building on the corner of Parana and Rivadavia and would go regularly. A bottle of Chandon Extra Brut with strawberry sorbet in it...yum...

And how on earth do you live without air-con in your flat???!!!??

Wayne Bernhardson said...

In reality, Matt, I rarely feel the need for air-conditioning - while our apartment has good light, it doesn't get much direct sun, and the ceiling fans are normally sufficient. Some nights, though, we sleep atop rather than under the sheets.

I'd never heard of Wimpy - I remember the name as a burger chain - but I'll see if it's still there when I'm next in the neighborhood.

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