As I am writing this Paris is in the midst of a heat wave. A heat wave in the US where everything is air-conditioned is one thing but in Paris it is a whole different animal. When the temperatures start to reach 27/28 degrees Celsius people here start to make their plan of attack to face the heat. There are two schools of thought- 1) you leave your windows open to catch the slightest breeze or 2) you open your windows at night and in the morning you close up every window, shutter and curtain tighter than Fort Knox. I’m of the second opinion and it works for us. That being said after 3, 4, 5… days of 95 degrees, the nighttime temperatures not dropping and the humidity in your tiny apartment rising- you are screwed any way you look at it.
Collectively what everyone is thinking is “boy I sure would love an ice cream” (or some cold rosé, or is that just me?). Known worldwide, Paris’ most famous ice cream is Berthillon. In 1954 Raymond Berthillon, a baker, decided to restart an ice cream maker that he had acquired a few years earlier. It was at his café located at 31 rue Saint-Louis en l’île (on the picturesque Île Saint-Louis) that he created his all natural artisanal ice cream that changed his destiny.
In 1961, Henri Gault and Christian Millau (influential French restaurant critics) put a spotlight on the establishment in their guide. Very quickly, and not surprisingly because it’s that good, this little shop became famous in Paris and across the world.
Today everything is still made on site at the same address. The Berthillon ice cream known around the world has become a true cultural product and has also made a fortune for the family of the founder. In classic French fashion the most famous ice cream in Paris closed the month of August. Huh? Quoi? Oui, you heard right! The hottest month of the year when you really want an ice cream the windows, shutters and curtains are closed up at Berthillon. Now this is not really that strange because many businesses in Paris are closed in August but we are talking about ice cream in the summer!
So where can you go for artisanal small-batch ice cream that you can enjoy on a hot day in August? I’m a huge fan of Martine Lambert on rue Cler in the 7th. (Buy an ice cream and walk around rue Cler- you’ll love the neighborhood)
Madame Lambert has been making her ice cream since 1975 when one of the suppliers to her ice cream shop in Normandy went into default. She bought his turbine; started making her own ice cream and the rest is herstory.
Madame Lambert now has three shops and a team of fifteen people. She has a network of contacts though whom she buys her materials like vanilla from Madagascar and she visits Europe’s largest wholesale market Rungis to buy only the best fruits for her ice creams. She says that if the fruit is not at it’s peak she prefers to eliminate the flavor rather than have it not be the best it could be. When she started out she didn’t even have a scale to measure the ingredients, she just did it all by taste. Apparently she’s found if there is too much sugar added (or needed because the fruit isn’t so great) the ice cream will have a shiny aspect to it!
I headed out one morning to try a couple flavors with my boys. We were there very early (at 10am when it opened) because it was already hot out and the afternoon was expected to be 98 degrees. In Paris, it’s just torture to walk or take public transportation in that type of heat.
One son chose Vanilla Paillettes (paillettes means sequins in English- much cuter than saying vanilla with chocolate shavings) and the other Mint Chocolate Chip.
First thing I noticed was the color of the mint chocolate chip was cream, you mean it isn’t supposed to be chemical green colored?!
Second, I noticed how short the list of ingredients was. There was just milk, eggs, sugar, chocolate and vanilla or real mint. This short list of ingredients is what made the flavor of the vanilla and mint enormous.
We chose little to-go pots of the ice cream and we sat under a tree at the Champs de Mars to enjoy our moment of pleasure. The ice cream was soft, creamy and rich but not too heavy.
Growing up eating real ice cream that artisan producers like Martine Lambert make has created a real appreciation of quality in my boys. The weird artificially colored concoctions they try in the US are a novelty and funny to try but they usually take a couple bites and throw it away.
Here in France it’s definitely quality over quantity… even closing up shop in August if necessary for quality of life. You can say the French might not know much about business but they sure know a lot about life!
Martine Lambert39 rue Cler75007 Paris