A rainbow of gelato flavors in a Rome gelateria. Photo: Susan Toth.
Screme Gelato, which hails from Israel, typifies the globalization of the popular Italian variety of ice cream. With two shops on the Upper West Side and others elsewhere in the city, Screme is making inroads all over the city. And its story was featured in Ice Cream: A Global History (Reaktion Books).
The book, a look at ice cream’s vibrant history worldwide, uses Screme as an example of gelato’s growing worldwide appeal. Gelato was once made almost exclusively in Italy by family-owned concerns. These days, gelato has gone corporate. Large companies making bases and flavors supply gelato makers worldwide. What’s more, anyone can be a gelato maker these days—even Israelis who adore ice cream of all types, and local influences are creeping into gelato. Sometimes variants–from Cookies and Cream to Peanut Butter, are supplanting traditional flavors like chocolate and pistachio.
Here’s the excerpt from Ice Cream: A Global History (by yours truly):
In the summer of 2009, a new brand of gelato arrived in New York. In a bustling metropolis with thousands of outlets dishingup every ice cream variety imaginable – from classic vanilla to offbeat concoctions like bacon and egg – the debut of yet another ice cream purveyor caused barely a stir among the city’s ice cream aficionados.
But Screme gelato boasted a unique pedigree. The gelato maker hailed neither from Milan nor Rome, but rather from a country – Israel – far removedbfrom the hallowed traditions of Italian gelato making. In Israel, Screme (known as Aldo’s) had assembled more than 50 outlets. Though launched by an Italian gelato maker in 1993 Screme was soon taken over by a group of Israeli businessmen, who quickly rolled out flavours like halva and lemon to suit local tastes. When Screme opened its New York outlets, it took its ice cream in yet another direction, fashioning flavours like Captain Crunch, Reese’s Peanut Butter andKey Lime Vodka – tastes that were specifically engineered to appeal to American sensibilities.
‘The Italians are locked into standard flavors’, Screme’s owner Yona Levy maintains. Levy hasn’t hesitated to aggressively shunt aside centuries-old gelato traditions to create his unique kosher and organic offerings. In fact, it’s safe to say that Screme’s gelato variant – not to mention its rotating menu of more than 5,000 flavours – would utterly confound Italian ice cream traditionalists.
But Screme’s heterodoxy is not unusual. Around the world – from Berlin to Kansas City – globalization has transformed the Italian classic into a frozen dessert that more often than not barely resembles the traditional version. In fact, it could be asked: is today’s globalized version of gelato even Italian – or has it been reimagined into an entirely new, universal ice cream type?
2030 Broadway (between 69th and 70th Streets)
176 West 94th Street
(corner 94th Street & Amsterdam)
Screme @ Verdi Square @72nd Street