Where the buffalo roam there is now ice cream of the highest natural order.
It is now four years, almost to the day, since 20 August 2016 when I first wrote about the apparent ‘craziness’ of the Antonini family.
Then I was able to describe how the father Fabio, his wife Cinzia and their three children, Edoardo, plus his now wife Alexandra, his brother Giacomo and sister Caroline, had left Rome for a wine property high in the Corbières hills. There they had taken over an abandoned wine estate, converted it with Italian flair (Fabio was an industrial designer by training and obviously has a very good eye) and, with Giacomo as the chef, they had collectively opened a restaurant called Bourdasso in the middle of the countryside a good 30 minutes’ drive east of Carcassonne.
Fortune favours the brave and the Antonini family do not lack bravery. Bourdasso, I am as delighted as I am surprised to report, is flourishing. It has just undergone a major internal redesign and appears to be even more popular than ever, not only in numbers but also in the distance customers seem to be prepared to travel to enjoy this oasis of Italian hospitality in the French countryside. Dinner customers come from as far away as Toulouse, well over an hour away, and the final part of their journey is on the narrowest of roads.
As demand has increased, so have the family’s ambitions. They have plans to convert part of the buildings into a bed and breakfast to accommodate those who want to stay the night and Edoardo, the restaurant’s wine steward, also talks of planting vines with Italian grape varieties in a local vineyard he has just taken over.
One of the particular attractions of eating at Bourdasso has been their mozzarella, which Edoardo produces every day from his own herd of 70 water buffalo which have been grazing in fields between the restaurant and the village of Pradelles-en-Val. He used to get up at 5.30 every morning to milk them. The result was magnificent: round, large, extremely white balls of delicious mozzarella cheese which would sit on top of a small amount of gazpacho or sautéed peppers and make the most wonderful first course.
But Edoardo, together with his young wife (pictured above), kept on dreaming and, of course, being Italian and now a restaurateur, this meant only one outcome: they had to open a gelateria, making their own ice cream from the buffalo milk, which would also supply the restaurant with the easiest of desserts. On my last visit there I could not help overhearing a young French boy pleading for an ice cream for his dessert.
He, and others, will not have long to wait. After lunch on Sunday 9 August we were given a preview of the brand-new gelateria just east of Pradelles-en-Val. You will probably spot the buffalo wallowing in the mud, their favourite pastime in the August heat. Next to them is a smart wooden one-storey building in which the ice cream is made (not the one shown below!).
There is no obvious sign outside, other than Antonini; the gelateria has no phone number and for the time being there is no website, although there are a few posts on Facebook. The location is most accurately described by its lieu-dit, a French toponymic term for a small geographical area bearing a traditional name, which here is Arjolo. Before its reincarnation the building provided stabling for the American show jumper Richard Spooner.
Once past the buffalo and the mud that they love to wallow in, and the final uncompleted works in the road, and with the Montagne d’Alaric in the distance, there is some flat, dry ground where cars can park. The gelateria in a most dramatic setting could hardly be closer to the source of its milk.
The peace of the air-conditioned gelateria contrasts beautifully with its distinctly agricultural surroundings. There is a counter with eight different metal buckets for each flavour; there is Alexandra standing behind the counter with a smile and a large serving scoop in her hand; while behind her a top-of-the-range Carpigiani ice-cream maker hums gently. On offer the day we were there were fior di latte, stracciatella, yoghurt, pistachio, caramel, salted caramel and one more flavour that depends on the freshest fruit available. They are priced at €3 per scoop.
The ice cream is extremely good, as the smiles on the faces of those who enjoyed it (such as my brother, shown above) will testify. And it is especially good when you appreciate quite how new the machinery is and the fact that their very first day of trading was 13 August. The entire location is extremely stylish, although Edoardo did add that his designer father had so far not put his foot across the threshold…
Perhaps not surprisingly, Edoardo reports that after their first week they had ‘seen lots of people and we're really happy’. The French seem to relish outposts of Italy in their own country – the more difficult to find, the better!
Gelateria Antonini, Arjolo, 11220 Pradelles-en-Val, France; open every afternoon except Friday, from 15.30 to 19.30