Volcan’s singing Italian Ice Cream Maker.
ANTONINO ERRANTE, 70 year old, Sicilian born Ice Cream maker has opened an Italian style Gelato ice cream parlour in the Chiriqui mountain town of Volcan. The store is on the East corner of the Rio Sereno road, about a half mile West of the Police Station.
Antonino is a character. Not only does he delight his customers with his current 18 flavours but every so often he will switch on his Casio Synthesizer and belt out a few Elvis Presley Favourites or the odd Italian opera song.
I sat down with Antonino yesterday to find out more about the man, his history and what is the secret to his wonderful Italian ice cream or as the Italians call it “Gelato.”
I have just returned from a short trip to Vancouver, Canada, A city with a large Italian community and oodles and oodles of Gelato ice cream stores. A little more than a week ago I tried some ice cream which the makers claimed was “Award winning.” In the interests of food science I did a comparison taste test. I was happy to tell Antonino, my new friend, that his Gelato was equal to or possibly better than his Canadian award winning competitors.
Rather than list the many flavours he has to offer (he claims he has the recipes for 80 different kinds of Gelato, Baskin Robbins eat your heart out) I suggest just take a few minutes to stand in front of his display case. The colours are wonderful and varied. He has done some slight frosting of chocolate, icing sugar and fruit adornments to make the choice almost impossible - everything looks absolutely delicious. In the food industry they have a saying the presentation is half the meal. Antonino’s presentation is almost a full meal in itself.
Obviously this son of Sicily will not divulge his longtime family secrets. He did say the basic ingredients were milk, sugar, whipped cream, fresh local fruits and – he paused with a slight grin and said, “ingredienti segreti” (secret ingredients)
Antonino’s life history hasn’t been all sugar, smiles and whipped cream. He previously had a large business in Venezuela, employing over 90 people. Possibly, his success there led to the attention of local Mafia style gangs and in August 2011, a gang kidnapped his son. He showed me a folder with various newspaper clippings. Fortunately, the police managed to free his son, unharmed, after just 5 days.
Hugo Chavez’s dictatorial hold on Venezuela has undoubtedly led to the economic disaster that it experiences to this day. Antonino blames Chavez for the country’s financial woes and that was the reason Antonino decided to move to Panama. Today, Antonino has three stores in Boquete, Bugaba and here in Volcan.
“I love the climate here,” he said. “It is so fresh and clean.” The store also provides another Italian favourite- Pizza. Also he can make a foot wide crepe adorned with a European favourite – Nutella.
Antonino’s JTO Gelato store is already a big hit with the locals- try finding parking there on the weekends. His secret ingredients? Well I can say he obviously takes a lot of care and precision in making his ice cream. I think his special ingredients are the songs in his heart and the obvious love that he puts into his food.