Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ciao Bella Sea Salt Caramel (A Gelato Review)

If you are surprised to see another ice cream post today, you must not know me that well. OK, I guess you could argue that today it’s technically not ice cream, since it’s actually gelato. But same difference. The main point is, I got to try another new brand!

This is Ciao Bella Sea Salt Caramel gelato. There seems to be an overabundance of gelatos called “Sea Salt Caramel,” and they’re all a little bit different. Talenti’s addicting concoction contains chocolate-caramel truffles in a sea salt caramel base, while Haagen-Dazs only uses a salted caramel swirl (review here). Ciao Bella combines the two in an almost-pint consisting of caramel base with caramel swirls and chocolate chunks. This flavor isn’t anywhere to be found on their website, nor does it come up with many Google listings. I’d like to think I picked up a new flavor and am about to be one of the first to blog about it. :)

Anyway, it looks maybe a little icy on the surface, but at least the chocolate is showing through! But don’t worry, those crystals are only on the top, and then this gelato gets REALLY thick and creamy. My first taste, licking the residue off the inside of the lid, gave me a potent caramel kick in the mouth.

But then I started spooning, and it turned from caramel overload into a dominant chocolate. That’s right, it’s these fudge flakes, they’re everywhere. Even when you try to eat around them, they end up on your spoon because they’re small enough to hide within the gelato. Small, but powerful. They aren’t hard and they melt down nicely in your mouth as you savor this gelato. They are more of a dark, bittersweet chocolate than milk, but I’m a huge fan of dark chocolate anyway. The problem is that they totally override the caramel, so I really can’t get a good read on whether or not it’s caramel, let alone salty. If it weren’t for that initial taste (see, there’s a great reason to clean off the inside of the lid!), I’m not sure I would have known it was caramel. It just seems really mild, a bit of a letdown after Talenti’s variation. It also seemed more sweet than salty--though still not as sweet as dulce de leche.

Then I figured something out. I took one spoonful and didn’t savor it, I just crunched right through the still-frozen chocolate chunks. And then I could taste the caramel! So do we have a problem, in that I’m not allowed to savor my gelato? Well, once I’d tasted the base alongside the frozen chocolate, I was better able to appreciate it when I let the chocolate get all melty, too. Oh, and the swirl helped.

Lurking just below the surface, it looks like a pretty standard ribbon of caramel, right? But it just kept getting bigger...

...and bigger...

This puddle of swirl packs a bit more salty punch, though it still submits to the chocolate chunks. It’s definitely saltier than the base, and saltier than Talenti’s base as well. I’m starting to think I just have trouble tasting salt in caramel ice cream, though I will say it’s definitely not as sweet as those caramel chews you can buy at the store.

So, Ciao Bella is off to a pretty good start. They didn’t blow me out of the water like Talenti did, but then again they’re at a disadvantage because I’ve now tried so many “sea salt” frozen treats by now that the novelty may be wearing off. Still, this was really good stuff. I was torn between a chocolate craving and something caramel, and despite its name, this gelato really satisfied my chocolate craving, while the swirl was enough caramel as well. I will be back for more Ciao Bella in the future!
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