Chestnuts Roasting in My Gelato

"Cold countries like Germany and Sweden lead the world in ice-cream consumption, perhaps because ice cream is perceived as a food that conveys a message of heat and vacationing. In Israel, on the other hand, when winter arrives, we want to imagine we aren't near a desert but rather part of the wide world, and we quickly adopt winter practices. In this way, Israel is always a bit behind Europe in ice-cream consumption."

This distinction is offered by Ilan Bar, owner of the Iceberg ice-cream boutique, as he stands over a slab of white chocolate that is undergoing "tempering." It will be melted so that forest berries can be added, then hardened, broken into tiny pieces and put in the ice cream machine, to be made into vanilla ice cream with white chocolate and forest berries. There will also be ice cream with white chocolate and green tea, and with chocolate, cherries and pecans. "In the winter, sales are good, but are lower than in summer," says Bar, "so we try to be creative. Every November, we have a chocolate festival and later in the winter, a strawberry festival."

The ice-cream menu is supplemented with other desserts, including krembos - chocolate-coated marshmallow fluff confections with a cookie base.

"The dessert menu helps winter sales, because it is impossible to sell just ice cream," says Dalit Bar, Ilan's wife and business partner. "A few years ago, there was much less work in winter, but two years ago things began to change, and last winter sales were very good. On a sunny Saturday sales are excellent, just like in summer. In winter, people also buy ice cream by weight, and take it home in a Styrofoam box."

Despite the theory concerning the Israeli winter and ice cream, there is no doubt that ice-cream boutiques, featuring handmade ice cream, are flourishing in Tel Aviv.

Iceberg, which opened eight years ago on Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, opened Iceberg Volcano at Tel Aviv port, in conjunction with the Manta Ray restaurant. This eatery, which serves mainly ice cream and specialty pizzas will stay open during the winter, thanks to a covered veranda.

"The idea is to turn Ice Volcano into a chain, very slowly, as opportunities arise," says Ilan. Ran Fishman, the owner of the Arlekino ice cream boutique on the corner of Yirmiyahu and Dizengoff Streets in Tel Aviv, is planning to open another branch in Tel Aviv now, in the winter.

"I think that opening an ice-cream boutique in the Israeli winter is a recipe for success and I'm searching all over for a location," says Fishman, who opened the Tel Aviv branch last winter. The original Arlekino is at Beit Yanai junction.

"During winter there is a bit less work, but there is still a high demand for ice cream and there is time to be prepared, to take stock and estimate when each flavor will run out, and to make changes in real time. In the summer demand is high all the time and we work overtime. I cannot plan anything."

Not far from Iceberg, on the corner of Dizengoff and Ben Gurion streets, is Arcobaleno, a new, almost hidden ice-cream boutique, run by Shay Avishar. He took a special course in Italy and prepares ice creams from natural ingredients and with only 5 percent fat.

"The sorbets have no fat at all," says Avishar, who is in no hurry to emphasize the low/no fat content of his products. "People are not necessarily attracted to reduced fat ice creams. Perhaps if they have already decided to eat ice cream, they don't care about the calories. I would not want to create a particularly deserving image for my ice creams. They are not too high in fat or sugar, but they are ice creams in every way."

Avishar is also not afraid of winter.

"Israelis actually seem more open to being adventurous in winter," he says, "even though in the end they always return to chocolate, vanilla and strawberry."

Arcobaleno's flavors include delicate vanilla, dark chocolate, strawberry, "with 2.5 kilos of berries per container," and vanilla-date.

"Young Israelis no longer pay attention to the consensus that ice cream is not a winter dessert," says Manny Shaked, of the Shaked ice cream boutique that opened two years ago in Tel Aviv port. "The Israeli winter is becoming a great season for ice-cream parlors. We make heavier, "warmer" flavors, such as chocolate with rum and raisins, with a mousse texture, or chocolate with pistachios. There is also a dessert called Damascus Gate (after that entrance in Jerusalem's Old City wall), which is a scoop of halva ice cream, shredded halva, raw tehina and pine nuts."

The Rogozinski brothers, Nitzan and Itay, also make special winter flavors, such as chestnut, Indian chai and alcoholic flavors.

About six years ago they opened the first branch of the Vaniglia ice cream boutique, in Tel Aviv's Basel compound, and they have many loyal customers, thanks to the different flavors. A few months ago, they opened another branch downtown, on Ibn Gvirol Street.

"We simply put everything into the ice cream, so we don't call it a dessert," says Itay, who makes the ice cream for both outlets. Both brothers concur that winter makes their lives easier. "When we opened the ice-cream boutique in the middle of the summer we worked 24 hours a day making the ice creams," recalls Nitzan. "In the winter we work about 20 percent less."