Mario Cimmino just introduced a kind of gelato unlike any in metro Phoenix. Sandwiched between four art galleries on each side, Gelato Cimmino opened in Old Town Scottsdale in mid-October. Right after summer. In a district rife with gelato and ice cream. An Italian dabbling in gelato for the first time.
With some primetime overseas help, Cimmino makes memorable flavors.
The first thing Mario Cimmino does right is sourcing. Cimmino is from Naples. His goal with Gelato Cimmino is “to bring the exact same taste you can get in Naples over here.”
Chasing this phantom, he sources a high percentage of his ingredients from Campania, the region of Naples, an agriculturally rich part of the world from antiquity (home of Falernian wines, the best drinking to be had in Roman times) to today (San Marzano tomatoes, for one). He uses lemons from the Amalfi coast and strawberries from Acerno's forests, hazelnuts from Giffoni Valle Piana and walnuts from Sorrento, apricots from trees below Mount Vesuvius.
All of these locales are a short drive from Naples. These are the kind of ingredients that power some of the better gelaterias in Italy’s third biggest city. Cimmino actually has a close friend who runs one of them: Il Gelato Mennella.
The second thing Cimmino does right is partner with this friend.
In tandem with Vincenzo Mennella, Cimmino makes his gelato bases in Naples, not far from his sources of ingredients. Bases are then frozen and shipped to Arizona. When more of a gelato flavor is needed in the royal-blue-and-white shop buried in the row of art galleries on Main Street, a worker at Gelato Cimmino will churn the base with Danzeisen Dairy milk and tin a fresh batch.
The third thing Cimmino does right is mix his gelato to an uncommonly smooth, creamy consistency. “I think it’s a little bit more creamy than [gelato from Italy’s] north,” Cimmino says. “In the south, it’s a real creamy gelato. It’s almost like a dessert.”
The creamy depths elevate two of Cimmino’s top-shelf flavors. The first is Cimmino Rock, an intense blend of chocolate, hazelnut, and cookie bits. The second is one of the best frozen scoops of any kind in town: “almonds & orange.” This flavor has the heady perfume of almond paste and a lush, long, spellbinding citrus note totally defanged of its acidity, like what you get from cassata or candied citron studded in Sicilian-style cannoli. (Sure enough, Cimmino sources oranges from Sicily.)
The fourth thing he does right is carefully curate flavors.
“Right now, everybody has a super-fancy gelateria with 50 flavors and all kind of weird name flavors,” Cimmino says. “We made a plan to go against the market and … bring back the way gelato used to be sold in Italy.”
He doesn’t go gangbusters with flavors. He follows natural harvest rhythms. You won’t see a flavor like plum running all year long. “If I use apricot, it’s because it’s in season,” he says.
On a recent visit, there were 11 gelato flavors and four sorbetto. Gelato ranged from vanilla flavors like chocolate to flavors that may seem outlandish, but, to an Italian palate, are standard: almond, cream, pistachio, and Amarena (cherry).
“I was always a big fan of gelato,” Cimmino says. “I moved to Arizona in 2010. And then every night I would go for gelato, and I found no gelato I liked here.”
A few new worthy shops have opened since then, true. But now he can get the flavors of his youth from his improbable own shop, one whose very best should satisfy even the hardcore gelato fan.
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One of the only positives we can steal from the Valley of the Sun’s worst negative — broiling heat in the summer — is that we have developed a gnarly culture of frozen sweets: ice cream, shave ice, paletas, raspados, ‘50s shakes, and so on. Despite or thanks to his cross-ocean method, Cimmino makes that scene a little lusher.
“You can feel what you’re eating,” he says of gelato made his way.
With some flavors — like that haunting "almond & orange"— you truly can.
Gelato Cimmino. 7140 East Main Street, Scottsdale; 480-584-5151.
Daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.