The very first day I went in to Brocato’s I was overwhelmed by the sheer variety of confectionary delights. Some things were familiar to me as things that are distinctly Italian even though I myself may not have had them before. There were jars of candy coated Almonds, a variety of biscotti to choose from, spumoni, and rum cake. Then there were the cannoli. Or at least I thought they were cannoli. However, they were listed as cannocini with a small sign below, distinctly stating: “This is NOT a cannoli.” I was intrigued, because knowing what they were not did not help me in figuring out precisely what they were. They appeared to be Italian cream filled cylinders, and I was failing to distinguish the difference.
My confusion regarding Brocato’s wares involved their frozen treats as well. During our interview, Arthur Brocato repeatedly referred to his frozen concoctions as “Italian ice creams”. I had considered them to be gelatos and ices. When I looked to their website for clarification, I noticed the following: “For the true connoisseur, Brocato’s offers a complete selection of “gelato” (Italian for ice cream) featuring all natural imported Sicilian flavorings from chestnut to moka to amaretto.”
So, according to Brocato’s, “gelato” is Italian for “ice cream”. Not being convinced that there wasn’t a bigger difference, I scoured the internet, and after looking through numerous Chowhound posts, Wikipedia postings, About.com answers and endless other streams of running commentary on the subject, I gathered that the general consensus is that gelato actually contains milk and cream as opposed to just cream and that the fact that is seems to be superbly creamy in comparison to its ice cream counterpart has more to do with the fact that it is mixed slowly enough that air doesn’t whip in, allowing for a much denser creamy texture. As for the cannocini: when I finally gathered the determination to display my ignorance of Italian desserts and ask for the difference, I was told that they are filled with sweetened custard filling rather than sweetened ricotta as the cannoli are.
I bring up the cannoli and gelato examples not because I wish to nitpick Brocato’s selections and word choices but because I think they serve as excellent examples when it comes to the endless debate on authenticity. If Brocato’s chooses not to call its Italian Ice Cream “gelato”, does it make it any less authentic? Furthermore, if one is to consider the new twists to old tradition, such as spumoni cheesecake, then where does authenticity come in to question? Are we to assume that if it isn’t traditional it isn’t authentic? If that’s the case, then nothing new or innovative would ever fit the definition, we’d be stuck in time forever, slaves to authenticity.
Several people have asked me how I feel about Juan’s Flying Burrito (another of my research subjects on the row) when compared with El Rinconcito or Fiesta Latina. In other words, is Juan’s “authentic” Mexican food? I would say that it all depends on the definition of authenticity. I come from a place where a burrito is food to be held, lunch packed to go. At Juan’s the burritos barely fit on the plate and they are often drenched in sauces. Grasping one would be highly inadvisable. Does it make them something other than a burrito? Not if Juan’s says that’s what they are.