Are there many towns in Ireland that can boast an authentic Italian gelateria? Sligo is tremendously lucky to have Fabio’s Ice Cream in the heart of the town where real Italian gelato is available all year round served by real Italians.
Fabio hails from the gorgeous Renaissance city of Florence in Tuscany. Famed for the Ponte Vecchio, Michelangelo’s sculpture of David and Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’, it’s pretty well known for ice cream too which is why the young Fabio Boni got his first job as a youngster in an gelateria. There he served an informal apprenticeship making ice cream the old fashioned way peeling peaches and other fruit in season, pouring in the milk and learning all the secrets of the trade.
As a typical Italian, Fabio has a genuine love for food as did his entire family. Although they lived in the city, his parents came from farming backgrounds. He treasures early memories of the annual get togethers with extended family, everyone working to harvest and preserve crops. The lyrical terms roll off his tongue: the Vendemmia (grape harvesting for wine), the Brucata (olive harvesting) and best of all the Pomarolata. When the huge crops of Pomodoro Costoluto, the ancient Florentine Tomato, ripened, everyone took to the fields. Massive pots of the ruby red fruit seasoned with basil and oregano bubbled over an open fire as they made enough tomato sauce to last the entire year. He describes a glorious celebration of food, preserving not only the crops but the time honoured traditions too.
Fabio’s route to opening a gelateria was anything but straightforward. He studied geology in university in Florence, at the same time working in restaurants and the hospitality business. Like so many before him he took the opportunity to travel after college, and lived for some years in San Francisco. Again he found himself in the restaurant business, gaining experience along the way. There he met his wife Maura, an Irishwoman from Carrick on Shannon and eventually she lured him to the Emerald Isle via Florence.
Their first child was born in Italy but given an Irish name (Seán); the second born in Ireland revels in the Italian name of Lorenzo. The couple moved to Ireland fulltime in 2008 and Fabio finally realised his dream, opening his own ice cream parlour in Wine Street.
Florence will always be a special place for Fabio, he loves the architecture of the city, the location and of course his family. Although Sligo is now home, he and Maura are raising their children as Irish/Italian and spend a couple of months in Florence each winter. This gives the boys a chance to absorb the culture and to grow up knowing their extended Italian family well. Even when he’s away, Fabio’s Ice Cream still stays open at weekends – it seems we like a frozen fix, even in the depths of winter.
His range of flavours is legendary and he likes to ring the changes, producing unusual ‘specials’ on a regular basis. It could be Mascarpone, Figs and Walnut or Black Forest Pavlova or Wild Atlantic Elderflower sitting alongside the alarmingly named Bull’s Blood (a sorbet of dark chocolate, orange juice and cayenne pepper!). Whatever it is, you can be sure they are the real deal with no emulsifiers, no hydrogenated fats and certainly no premade industrial mixes!
Fabio is passionate about ice cream and loves to discuss the technicalities – especially when it comes to differentiating between “ice cream” and “gelato”. The calorie counters will be delighted to discover that gelato is made with less cream and more milk so it contains a remarkable 50% less fat. This, and the fact that gelato is served at a higher temperature than ice gives it a more intense flavour. A slower churning rate gives gelato a denser and creamier texture. In fairness after a lifetime making ice creams, gelatos and sorbets – Fabio really should know what he’s talking about!