Gus Rancatore, co-founder and proprietor of Toscanini's Ice Cream in Central Square, isn't afraid of a good challenge. Toscanini's is renowned for its roster of oddball ice-cream infusions (get your hands on the Earl Grey, it's ethereal), and this weekend finds itself in the middle of Cambridge's third annual ROFLcon.
Last year, Rancatore had some good-natured fun with the ROFLcon die-hards, whipping up a new flavor you may not have heard of: "The Internet." What does the Internet taste like, you ask? Intangible space? Computer wires?
"It was a simple flavor in the spirit of playful nerdiness," he says over the phone from Cambridge. The recipe? Vanilla ice cream with Nerds candy mixed in.
That flavor was an immediate hit with both the city's geeks and ice-cream lovers, so ROFLcon approached Toscanini's with a new challenge for 2012: create an ice-cream flavor that would evoke the same hysteria as the original meme-du-jour, Nyan Cat.
"They very specifically came up with this idea," he says. "I was actually unfamiliar with it, but one of the other ice-cream makers knew what it was immediately."
What does he make of the strangely popular Pop-Tart cat?
"It's just silly," he says, laughing. "It's one of those silly Internet things. Fine by me!"
Rancatore and his team tested about five different versions before they were satisfied, he says. "We spent a lot of time talking about how the heck we were going to do this, and we decided to downgrade the cat idea and just focus on the fact that it's just a Pop-Tart with colored speed lines."
The ice-cream artisans eventually settled on a combination of creamy coconut sorbet, studded with chunks of cherry-flavored Pop-Tarts and, in a revolutionary move away from standard rainbow sprinkles, muhkwas — the candy-coated fennel seeds found in some Indian restaurants.
"When you put Pop-Tarts in ice cream, it's a little like putting cookies or brownies; it's mostly a textural contrast," he explains. "The muhkwas have a very strong taste for something so small, so what you really notice with them is the taste, not the texture. So you have this relatively sweet, dull Pop-Tart, and then these sharp fennel flavors."
He says the store will be well-stocked during the conference for all the meme-enthusiasts, then promises, "If it's popular, we'll have it forever."
And you thought the Internet was the only way Nyan Cat could keep hurtling through space until the end of time. Never underestimate an ice-creamery with a good sense of humor.
TOSCANINI'S ICE CREAM AND COFFEE, located at 899 Main St, Cambridge, is open Monday–Saturday, 8 am–11 pm, and Sunday, 10 am–11 pm. Call 617.491.5877 or visit tosci.com.