When I began researching, prior to coming last year, where to go and what to do in Paris, there were certain names and places that kept coming up. Among them was Berthillon, a glacier, or ice cream and sorbet maker with a store on Île Saint-Louis. At that point I didn’t put it on the priority list because, although I like ice cream, it’s never quite a must-have. I feel that there is a time and a place for ice cream. That place is your backyard and the time is on a summer evening when the sun is going down and the mosquitos are alllmost, but not quite out yet. That place is your couch, and that time is when you feel emotional and weird and it is accompanied by Aretha Franklin and a friend and/or cat. I had read so many amazing things about this particular ice cream, articles, blogs, guide books, proclaiming that it was the best ice cream in the world! or at least, Paris. If something is THE BEST, I will try it. I feel like life is too short to not eat (and see, and hear and experience) the best that is out there, particularly if it is right under your nose. It’s also fun because the best is so subjective and it’s fun to compare. I may even have to eat several best ice creams. Hello, Italy. So, I decided that the place to eat ice cream was Paris, and the time was the 4th of July, a day that crept up to quite warm here finally, after going to visit Musée de l’Orangerie. Well, l’Orangerie was closed due to “exceptional circumstances”. So instead we strolled through the Tuileries and along the Seine to Île Saint-Louis, one of the islands in the Seine.
I had done my research, knowing that the few minutes standing in line is never enough time to decide which one or two (or three or four) flavors you would like on your cone. I went to the website where I found lists of all of the glacees and sorbets in French. Some of these I could read, but in looking for a translation for Agenaise (prune and armagnac), I actually found that someone had translated the entire list of flavors into English. Lavender caught my eye right away, as did Earl Grey. I will always try the thing that seems unusual, different and interesting. Getting vanilla, even if it is the best vanilla in the world, just isn’t an option for me. Wild strawberry sorbet also caught my eye for that reason, and the fact that it had been called out as one of Berthillon’s specialties. And then I thought Pistache (pistachio) would go brilliantly with the strawberry. So it was just about which other flavor might compliment those other two. Salted butter caramel is always a good choice. But, when we got there, three of the five flavors that caught my eye weren’t on the list. I suppose they rotate between the flavors, as well as adding a few seasonal ones (Basil Pineapple Sorbet anyone)? This is not your American ice cream full of chunks and swirls and brownies, (although a few do have chips). Each type is one distinct flavor, or maybe two, distilled to its essence. Berthillon is famous for the intensity and boldness of its flavors, the ice cream or sorbet capturing the true quintessence of chocolate, or coconut, or cinnamon.
I ended up with wild strawberry sorbet and caramel au beurre salé ice cream. And it was good. You know it’s good when begin thinking about the next time while you’re still there. The salted caramel had the perfect mix of salty and sweet, with a lovely deep caramel flavor. The texture of the ice cream was excellent, utterly creamy without a hint of the icy or cloying nature that other ice creams can have. The sorbet was full of fresh strawberry flavor and even a few of the tiny specimens themselves, pure summer in a cone.