I’m not a particularly sweet-toothed person. Myself and my oven do become acquainted when I feel the need to make a dessert or cake I grew up with but cannot find in Northern Spain. But as the weather gets warmer – I feel less like baking and more like eating ICE-CREAM.
I didn’t realise how good the ice-cream was in Santander until I lived in Madrid and found it hard to get a nice helado or helao (as it’s often pronounced in Cantabria). In Salamanca, despite the heat from April on, I don’t remember much ice-cream at all – apart from when somebody’s parent or a student took me out for a meal and I had the frozen half orange or lemon with its fruit scooped and replaced with ice-cream. (I tried these last year and they are still great!)
A friend here told me that the Cantabrian tradition of ice-cream production comes from the Italians who worked in the anchovy industry in Santoña – 48 km away from Santander. The Italians – mostly Sicilian – arrived in the 1880s and within a few years, had established filleting and canning warehouses and devised the system still used today of preserving the anchovy in olive oil. I wasn’t able to confirm any connection between the anchovy and the ice-cream production – but it might still be right. Whilst reading a bit about the individual ice-cream makers in the region, I did learn that many of the local ice-cream makers travelled from Cantabria to France selling ice-creams in the summer.
Want to see what they serve up here in 2013?
I took a tour of the ice-cream parlours in Santander last Saturday.
My favourite ice-cream (and therefore my first stop) is the tiramisu single scoop in a cone from Monerris. The company began its trade selling turrones or Spanish traditional nougat in Santander in the winter of 1893. Four generations later, the family continues to make the Christmas marzipans and nougat by hand. But given the seasonality of that trade, they hit on the perfect combination (for me) of producing ice-cream in Cantabria for the summer months. There are a few tables at the back of the parlour where you can order a sit-in ice-cream. I usually take mine and walk though the pedestrianised street of San Francisco onto the Plaza Porticada. My single scoop of tiramisu in a cone (also delicious) cost 2EUR.
My first ice-cream in Santander was probably at Regma. The company has 17 shops or kiosks all over Cantabria. I usually buy Regma in Potes in the Picos de Europa National Park – after a walk/hike in the mountains. Established in 1932, it opens 365 days a year and in the peak sumer months of July and August stays open until midnight or later. Its portions are probably the largest in the city. They are massive. Last Saturday I had a scoop of strawberry from the kiosk on the Sardinero which cost 2.10 EUR (it doesn’t actually look so big in the photo but it was!). Although mostly ice-cream stands, there is a Regma cafe and pastry shop on Jesus de Monasterio where I’m sure they serve up sundaes!
My life-changing ice-cream was from the Italiana in the Sardinero which has been selling ice-creams underneath the Casino since 1938. My then friend (now husband) bought me a single scoop in 1992 (I think it was straciatella and tutti frutti) and the rest is history. I love the Italian tradition of buying the ticket first and then handing it over to the person serving the ice-cream. The Italiana does have a cafe attached to the ice-cream parlour and you can have table service ice-cream but I usually sit on one of the park benches nearby or talk along the beach with one. Last Saturday, my vanilla and chocolate single scoop in a cone cost 2.10EUR.
Capri on Paseo Pereda is a bit of an institution in Santander. Whilst it rarely has queues (and the Regma closeby has really long ones on a sunny day) it is a favourite for many. I like the place as much as the ice-creams – again – when it’s busy you buy your ticket and then hand it over to the ice-cream lady. Their presentation is probably the best. They have a half a coconut on the coconut tub and a bar of white chocolate in the white chocolate flavour tub. Capri has tables outside. I had a mango and pineapple single scoop in a cone to go which cost 2.10EUR.
In the interest of balanced journalism – I dropped into one of the dozen frozen yoghurt shops that have mushroomed up in the city – EnjoyIt! on Castelar. I wasn’t won over the frozen yoghurt at all but enjoyed choosing from the 20 odd toppings (healthy and unhealthy) and 8 sauces (some fruity, some chocolatey). My whipped frozen yoghurt with Ferrero Rocher chocolate sauce and a choco-crunchy muesli topping (I opted for the smallest container) cost 1.80EUR.
This list is not exhaustive. After five ice-creams I began to fade. I meant to try out La Polar which has ice-cream vans at beaches around the city (and a number of parlours as well). And the place around the corner from me – Fragola bar & ice-cream parlour – makes a brilliant dulce de leche or toffee ice-cream. I usually stop in here after the shops as shut when I need an ice-cream fix. And it’s handy when you need a zero-preparation dessert on a Sunday. I think it costs about 8.50EUR per litre.
I have one ice-cream tip for anybody visiting Santander. Never order ice-cream in a restaurant unless you want a Magnum. I can’t understand why the owners don’t buy a few litres of decent ice-cream from one of the numerous producers in the area. My advice (to avoid disappointment) is to order coffee for dessert and get your ice-cream later.
Do you like ice-cream?
Have you got a favourite flavour or memory associated with ice-cream?
Nice post about some of best icecream places in Santander …
I’d like to comment that I dont think this tradition came to Cantabria from Sicily. The few sicilians that came to Santoña Castro and Laredo were keen in salt and fish but not in icecream. Otherwise there should be famous italian parlours in these villages but there are not.
I think This is mainly a local icecream making tradition, specially from the Pas Valley mountains inside green Cantabria. It’s well known how the pasiegos have a nomad way of life travelling each season from one stone and pizarra cabaña to another following the greener grass in each season in a countryside economy based on milk and cows from many years ago.
Its also well known how at least at the beginning of XX century many pasiegos where making and selling icecreams made originally with their little farms milk. They sold it from Santander to the rest of Cantabria and Spain travelling in little cars or carritos.
Some Pas families even migrated to France and sell and established litte icecreams shops or factories in San Juan de Luz, Biarritz, Paris and other places. Internationally Famous brands like Miko (Later named Camy by Nestlé) were founded by pasiegos as you can see here http://es.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miko_(helados)
The pasiego artisan ice cream tradition is still alive and you can taste it in the little icecreams vans (not all are totally artesanos i must say) that travel through the little villages of Cantabria and in some litte artisan heladerias like the ones in Saron and Ontaneda.
Heladerias like Regma and others you mentioned are ok but highly industrialized in comparison with the rural cantabrian icecream tradition.
Las heladerías que nombras son buenas y famosas en Santander pero las pocas heladerias pasiegas auténticas que quedan son menos conicidas pero espectaculares… Por algo a los impresionantes valles pasiegos se les llama “El Secreto de Cantabria” no cuentes el secreto pero no dejes de visitarlos !
Un saludo y enhorabuena por el post.
Thanks for the detailed comment Pas. I’ll drop the theory about Sicily then 🙂 I take your point that Regma is industrialised. I look forward to learning more about the Valle del Pas ice-cream traditions and tasting some this summer. If they are as good as the rest of their dairy products, I’ll be filling my freezer…
I have also heard that Cantabria’s icecreams come from pasiegos. They had great milk and needed to conserve it so they decided to use ice and make icecream.
Regarding industrialized icecreams. It is true that Regma is on of them. However, la Italiana is hand made I believe that Monerris is hand made too. Enjoyit is pure industry.
Anyhow, even being industrialized, Regma are also delicious!
Pam, what a great article. Makes me want to come for a long overdue visit. Hard to believe it’s 20 years since I lived in Santander! Steph x PS don’t knock the magnums they’re all we have here!
Hi Steph. It has been a while since you were here! Come over and see whether you still like the sobaos as well. Thanks to Ryanair it’s a lot easier to get to Santander from Dublin now 🙂