Gelato is a competitive business in Lucca these days. Both inside and outside the city walls there are many amazing gelato makers. I use the Italian word gelato on purpose as gelato should not be confused with ice cream as they are not the same thing. Gelato is a denser, smoother, less rich mixture served at a slightly higher temperature, which means the natural often delicate flavours become the main player on the taste buds.
On 26th of September, one of the oldest Gelateria in Lucca just across from the family house of one of Lucca’s most famous sons Giacomo Puccini celebrates its 100 birthday this year. The Puccini family would no doubt cross the piazza and buy whipped cream from the Santini family “latteria” (a small shop selling milk and cream). I was very disappointed in Italian bought cream until I discovered the trick of buying it from a gelateria, though it is a bit of a luxury. My first taste of this delicious indulgence, In Lucca, came from that same Santini Gelateria. The recipe for cream or “panna” has remained unchanged since Puccini’s day and I can’t pinpoint how they make it so special .
The Santini parlour is run by the fourth generation of the same family, two sisters, Michela and Elisa with their parents Dora and Sergio. The great great grandchildren of Pietro, who opened the shop during the war in 1916 with his wife can often be seen playing in the piazza. The Gelateria now has 28 different flavours but originally before fridges, there were just four flavours, which were kept cool using ice. The Chocolate and Crema (a sort of custard) are still the flavours most loved by the Locals. The Gelati are all made from fresh ingredients, eggs and milk and sugar those more diet conscious can go for the fruit options which contain no milk or sugar. A truly healthy afternoon treat.
In Italy, a dessert is traditionally offered to your host at a dinner party and Santini have a wonderful selection of semifreddo delights including a variation on the Buccellato, the famous aniseed sweet bread in Lucca and there is also the famous Zuccotto plus much more. At Christmas, you can add a zip to your Panettone with a semifreddo version.
I for one am very happy to have been in Piazza Cittadella with Puccini statue looking down on us celebrating this wonderful 100th anniversary with the Santini family. With so many historic shops closing in the city we should celebrate this families tradition and raise a cone of Crema di Puccini to them.