Tartufo di Pizzo – Chocolate and hazelnut ice cream from Calabria

Tartufo di Pizzo: the greatest ice cream in the world

by Great Italian Chefs 23 April 2019

Unlike other Italian tartufi, you don’t need a pig to find this one! Named after its resemblance to the highly coveted truffle, the tartufo di Pizzo is a cocoa-dusted chocolate-and-hazelnut ice cream bombe, invented in the quaint Calabrian seaside town of Pizzo in 1952.

Great Italian Chefs is a team of food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest news, views and reviews from the gastronomic mecca that is Italy. From Veneto and Lombardy in the north to Calabria and Sicily in the south, we celebrate the very best of this glorious cuisine and try to bring you a little bit of la dolce vita wherever you are.

With the exception of Sicily, Calabria is the furthest south of all the Italian provinces. The weather gets pretty toasty as a result. The Calabrian climate is notoriously sweaty during the summer months – in most parts of the region you’re looking at average highs of 30ºC between May and September, and the warm air current that sweeps up from Africa makes the east coast especially dry and arid.

When you’re faced with this sort of relentless heat, there’s only one good way to keep yourself cool – ice cream. Fortunately, the Calabrians realised this some time ago; gelato is a huge deal in the south and gelaterias serve an incredible range of flavours – not just classics like hazelnut, pistachio and stracciatella (a milk ice cream with veins of chocolate running through it) but also very unusual, local flavours, like liquorice, red onion and, yes, even ‘nduja. If you’re not quite sure of the logic behind a spicy pork salami ice cream, you’re not alone. Take our advice and seek out the legendary Calabrian tartufo di Pizzo instead – a multi-layered hazelnut-and-chocolate ice cream bombe that lays a fair claim to being one of the world’s greatest desserts.

The story of the tartufo starts in the Calabrian city of Pizzo – a small fishing town on the region’s west coast. Pizzo is the undisputed home of Italian gelato – it’s known nationwide as the ‘city of ice cream’ and there are at least twenty gelaterias in the centre of the town alone (one per every 500 inhabitants, incidentally). Pizzo’s place at the centre of the gelato universe is largely thanks to the invention of the tartufo in the 1950s – plenty of families in the town made gelato before this, but it’s the tartufo that really put Pizzo on the map.

The beautiful seaside town of Pizzo is home to one of the greatest desserts in the world
Tartufo di Pizzo is an ice cream bombe made up of chocolate and hazelnut gelato, dusted in cocoa with a filling of melted chocolate

So the story goes, ice-cream maker Giuseppe De Maria – known as ‘Don Pippo’ to locals – was frantically preparing desserts for a feast to celebrate the arrival of an important prince. Finding he had no moulds left for his ice cream, Don Pippo started to shape the desserts with his hands instead, placing hazelnut and chocolate ice cream in his palm, then shaping it into a rough ball around a filling of melted chocolate to make a bombe. For Sicilian-born Giuseppe it was no different to making arancini – instead of covering the balls with breadcrumbs he dusted them in sugar and cocoa, giving them the appearance of truffles and forever coining them as tartufi di Pizzo.

The original recipe still belongs to Don Pippo’s nephews, who run neighbouring gelaterias Dante and Ercole in the centre of Pizzo. These are the places to go if you’re after a truly authentic tartufo, but such is the quality of ice cream in Pizzo, virtually every restaurant and cafe in the town makes a good tartufo. What separates good from great, though, is craftsmanship. The gelato must be made without any additives or modern stabilisers and once you’ve managed to pour a respectable amount of melted chocolate into the centre, there’s the tricky business of sealing the tartufo without making a mess.

Today the tartufo di Pizzo is recognised as significant part of Italy’s heritage. It has been given IGP-protected status, meaning that the dessert must be made in Pizzo to be called as such. Artisans in the town don’t just make desserts for customers who walk through their doors, they also make thousands of tartufi to be shipped all over Italy.

If you want to try making your own, check out Calabrian chef Francesco Mazzei’s stunning recipe – he makes his own chocolate and hazelnut ice creams from scratch, before freezing, churning, shaping and filling with chocolate sauce and sugared hazelnuts. He then seals the bombe and wraps in parchment paper before a generous dusting of cocoa powder gives the tartufo its signature finish. Making your own is the only way to truly appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into a good tartufo, but if you want to taste the real thing, you’ll have to go to Pizzo.