Gus Rancatore is a longtime scholar of the sweet. So it’s no surprise that a conversation with him at Toscanini's Ice Cream, his shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will jump quickly from the evolution of gelato along the Italian peninsula to his difficulties with pomegranate molasses to the cultural serendipity that made Häagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche a sleeper hit of the 1990s.
Rancatore’s formula for his successful ice cream store is equally idiosyncratic. Unlike the typical scoop shop, Tosci, as it’s known colloquially, offers weekend brunch, and frequently churns out unorthodox flavors such as Burnt Caramel, Guinness Stout, and cucumber-based Spring Sorbet. Oh, and it doesn’t rely on children as its key customer base.
Instead, Toscanini’s success springs from its diverse clientele. Situated in the shadows of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, the shop’s customers include students, academics, professionals, chefs, and a large international contingent that enjoys and contributes to Rancatore’s wide-ranging menu. It was an Indian-born professor who helped Rancatore formulate his first cardamom-spiked kulfi; Caribbean cab drivers stop in for scoops made with Grape-Nuts cereal, a traditional addition to Jamaican rum raisin. Rancatore’s got high hopes for a Japanese roasted soybean-flour ice cream currently in development. It has rich, nutty depth but a grainy texture that requires some taming before its premiere.
Cheese is a periodic visitor in the Tosci kitchen, too: A goat cheese-brownie flavor is in regular rotation, and other cheese varieties appear periodically. “Cheese enriches the flavor and the texture of ice cream, making it more complex,” Rancatore says. “The reason you don’t see it broadly is that it’s expensive, but that makes it a treat to do at home, in a small batch.”
On most days, Rancatore is in his shop by 9:30 a.m., churning ice cream with employees and experimenting with styles and exotic flavors like Syrian mastic and rose extract. By striking the balance between experimental and crowd-pleasing in its flavors, Toscanini’s has earned a string of accolades, including “Best Ice Cream in the World” from the New York Times in 2008.
Still, “I’m less interested in eccentric for eccentricity’s sake,” Rancatore says.
More great Tosci recipes:
- Goat Cheese-Brownie Ice Cream
- Coffee Frozen Yogurt
- Basil-Vanilla Whey Ice Cream
- Chocolate Whey Ice Cream
- Crème Fraîche Ice Cream with Chocolate Turtletop Shell
Written by Will Fertman
Photography by Ekaterina Smirnova
Styling by Catrine Kelty