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These ice cream cones aren't just delicious — they're works of art

Updated September 14, 2023 at 1:07 PM ET

With relatives in Argentina, I spend a lot of time there, and everyone I meet is a fierce partisan when it comes to:

fútbol (meaning soccer, of which there are 24 professional teams in Buenos Aires alone, to which residents establish an allegiance early in life that never, ever changes)

cafés (which come at least three or four to the block in downtown, all of which you happily pass to get to your café, which is el mejor and at which you have a favorite table at which you sit for hours and hours)

— and heladerias — ice cream parlors — which in the summer seem nearly as ubiquitous as cafes, and to which patrons adhere with superglue-ish loyalty.

I'm at Heladeria Cadore in the theater district, talking to owner Gabriel Famá, whose uncle started Cadore at this same location back in 1957. Famá, who in the early 2000s was President of AFADHYA (the acronym in Spanish for the Argentine Artisanal Ice Cream Makers Association) and is now the organization's secretary, is understandably proud of his ice cream, which is still made fresh daily as his uncle insisted at the start, right in the store.

He recounts how an Italian ice cream maker told him admiringly at a world ice cream convention in 2008 that his ice cream was "un helado de pueblo, no un helado de ciudad" (a village ice cream, not a city ice cream").

And he's happy to wax eloquent on the richness of the flavors: pistachio, cardamom, sambayón (made with egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine), hibiscus, Russian cream, caramel-y dulce de leche, and of course, chocolate — whether bitter and dark, or sweet and luscious, in chunks, coating almonds.

We're talking as one of his employees uses what could almost be a canoe paddle, to stir quarts of dark chocolate, and thick, dulce de leche into a vat where spiraling metal blades mix them with air into a taffy-like chocolate-mousse base.

The way it sits in a cone is a work of art

It is small-batch, hand-made daily like all the ice creams served at Cadore. And it's every bit as good as Famá thinks it is.

But as customers wait with expectant smiles, I'm fixated on something else about his ice cream: The way it sits in a cone is — not to put too fine a point on it — a work of art. The folks behind the counter are sculpting the ice cream into what looks like a six-inch-high inverted cone atop the waffle cone.

If this were soft-serve or custard, that'd be easy, but this is real ice cream — rich and solid, sometimes with nuts, or chocolate chunks or bits of figs. So it's not malleable the same way.

As he scoops a dark-chocolate/pistachio two-scoop cone, Famá explains how they do it. It starts the way it does in the U.S. — you scoop up a glob of ice cream and plop it atop a cone, making sure it doesn't extend much over the cone, so patrons can eat it without it melting all over their fingers.

But sculpting the towers requires a lot of wrist action. The scoops his employees use aren't cupped, so they don't produce globes of ice cream. They're flat, like pancake flippers or spatulas.

So to create creamy six-inch ice-cream spires, his employees create the shape of the inverted cone on the spatula, and then they sort of back it onto the waffle cone, so that it rests atop the lower layer. A flick of the wrist at the end — it's almost a dance move — separates the spatula and leaves a tower.

It's gorgeous.

'A moment when it's just you, alone with the ice cream'

And it's just business-as-usual — how they do it in Buenos Aires — everywhere, not just at Cadore. You don't get round scoops here.

Famá, for whom all of this is second-nature, thinks I'm making way too much of appearances. He says "as with a beautiful woman or a handsome man, you can put on your best clothes, best perfume, but ultimately it comes down to the person."

"Same with ice cream," he says. "You can make it aesthetically pleasing, but then there's a moment," he gets a slightly faraway look in his eye, "when it's just you alone with the ice cream."

In that moment, the ice cream has to be special.

I can certainly vouch for his.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.