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food / travel

From Corsica, Capturing The Secrets Of The World's Best Sorbet

Pierre Geronimi, ice-cream maestro
Pierre Geronimi, ice-cream maestro
Emmanuel Tresmontant

SAGONE - Ecstatic strawberry; erotic nougat; the forgotten flavours of violets, helichrysums, and Persian black limes... Can ice-cream contain a touch of genius? If it’s Pierre Geronimi making it, absolutely!

An artisanal ice-cream maker from the little village of Sagone, north of Ajaccio, this Corsican grew up surrounded by the sorbets that his father, a master ice-cream maker, used to make right here, between the beach and the rugged hillside, before delivering them all around the island in his refrigerated truck.

Now 44, Pierre Geronimi is at the top of his profession. While most artisanal ice-cream makers have no scruples about using frozen fruit purée, Geronomi invests all his money in buying fresh seasonal fruits and top-quality products. His creations feature predominantly, of course, all that Corsica has to offer: the wondrous flavors of Pascal Colombani’s melons, Florence Marsili’s honey, Alexia Santini’s pralines, Ivan Colona’s brocciu, Anna Nocera’s saffron, Paul and Jean-Pierre Caux’s helichrysums -- without forgetting the sensational lemons, grapefruits and Barbary figs grown on the east coast of the island.

Geronimi's passion is to work with the “crème de la crème” – the very best products in the world. “Xavier Burban’s strawberries from La Baule, Alain Abel’s vanilla from Tahiti," he says, starting to reel off the list, "Rossella Caruso’s almonds and pistachios from Sicily, Persian black limes, Medjool dates, garlic confit from Aomori in Japan, tobacco from Havana in Cuba, Sorrento grapes, Venezuelan rum, New Caledonian blue prawns…”

Like Japanese chefs

There is only one thing left to do once all these treasures are gathered: extract their frozen essence -- which has become the singular obsession of Geronimi’s life.

“How can you reduce the temperature of a product while keeping it as close as possible to its natural taste? How can you capture the flavor of a fruit without adding any sugar? At what temperature does a product offer the very best of itself?” These are the questions that Geronimi has been asking himself since he took over from his father more than 20 years ago.

Eric Briffard, head chef at the exclusive George V hotel in Paris, was the first top chef to recognize Geronimi’s talent. “Pierre Geronimi is an artist without equal, one of those rare people who knows how to stabilize products in a natural way," says Briffard. "Like Japanese chefs, he knows that between ‘too hot’ and ‘too cold’ there are an infinite number of nuances and stages.”

Photo: Glaces Geronimi

For example, chocolate and coffee are to be soaked in the best possible crème fraîche overnight at 50 degrees Celsius. Pistachio requires 60 degrees, praline 80. “My aim is to create a creamy, soft texture which awakens the taste buds and pays homage to the pure flavor of the product,” he explains. When it comes to sorbets, precision is key: “Wild marjoram must be infused for 12 minutes at 60 degrees Celsius: Any more, and the product is ruined; any less, and it’s not enough!”

While mango, strawberry and pear are enough on their own, other products need to be combined to truly bring out the best of their flavor -- like ginger and passion fruit, yellow tomato and rosemary, pepper and olive oil. “That’s the most exciting part!”

His peach and verbena sorbet, pale pink, almost the same shade as marble, exists on a whole new level of delicateness. First the verbena awakens your taste buds, attacks and rinses your palette, before giving way to the sweetness of the peach which transports your imagination to orchards hanging over an unknown sea.

Once soaked, Pierre measures the level of sugar in the fruit. “I don’t want people to be thirsty after eating my sorbets! They should quench your thirst, like pomegranate or watermelon sorbets. My favorite is Corsican grapefruit sorbet; the most difficult to make because I don’t add sugar to stabilize it.”

A flavor request from Qatar

Geronimi then pours everything (cream for ice-creams, syrup for sorbets) into his gelato machine which was made near Bologna, Italy. “This machine allows me to set the best temperature for each product, as well as the rotation speed of the paddle in order to obtain the texture that I’m looking for. There is plenty of air in the horizontal cylinders, which gives the ice-cream volume. The catch? The more air, the more money you save, but the weaker the flavors. That’s the principle that industrial Italian ice-cream is based on… For me, it’s the complete opposite: minimum air for maximum taste.”

After eight or ten minutes of stirring, the ice-cream comes out of the machine at -3 degrees Celsius: It is at this point that the aroma and flavor of the ice-cream are at their best. Stored at -20 degrees Celsius in the freezer (for no more than four months), Pierre Geronimi’s ice-creams are never hard, maintaining their creaminess and shine.

For those who might want to steal Geronimi’s tricks, he explains that there is no recipe. “Every day requires innovation. A strawberry picked in the rain is not the same as a strawberry picked when it's dry! You have to calculate the water present in the fruit before you can work with it. Therefore the recipe is never the same.”

In 2012, the French luxury conglomerate LVMH placed an order for ice-cream to be made from the best vintages of Veuve Clicquot champagne, one of the company’s subsidiaries. Accepting the challenge, Geronimi took six months to develop an unheard-of technique allowing champagne bubbles to be trapped inside the ice-cream: This sparkling dessert can be combined with top-of-the-range products like live royal Dublin Bay prawns marinated in green curry, citrus fruits and ginger.

The Sagone ice-cream maker is an artist, capturing the essence of things -- perhaps even of living beings. An emir from Qatar has already requested the ice-cream flavor of “a loved woman.”

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