Page last updated at 12:05 GMT, Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Venezuelan ice-cream parlour with 860 different flavours

You might imagine that the shop selling the largest number of ice-cream flavours in the world would be in Italy or perhaps the US, but in fact it is in the Venezuelan city of Merida, as Will Grant discovered.

Ice cream counter at Coromoto
I chose a scoop of avocado and a scoop of sweetcorn... it's amazing
Customer Marjorie Castillo

After looking in the windows of a couple of ice-cream parlours but finding nothing more exciting inside than strawberry and vanilla, we eventually find Coromoto, opposite a church.

The neon sign outside, with the words "Guinness Book of Records" written in pink, is an instant give-away but, once through the doors, it becomes even clearer that this is the place.

At first glance, the counters of brightly coloured ice cream look perfectly ordinary.

Close up, the flavours are anything but.

The selection includes chilli, tomato, gherkin, onion, mushrooms in wine, garlic, and cream of crab.

Coromoto was set up in 1980 by a Portuguese immigrant, Manuel da Silva Oliveira.

The owner does not come in much any more and has left the running of the place to Jose Ramirez.

Seasonal changes

Jose is exactly what an ice-cream parlour manager should look like.

A friendly man in his 40s, his white and purple shirt is spotlessly clean, and his black moustache is perfectly groomed.

Jose Ramirez
Of course, being Venezuela, there are plenty flavours made with rum
Jose Ramirez, manager of Coromoto

"Mr Oliveira was tired of working for the big ice-cream companies," Jose says, "and decided that he could make more interesting flavours on his own."

The first attempt was avocado.

"It's a tough one to get right because avocados are so rich," says Jose.

"Mr Oliveira wasted around 50kg of ice cream trying to perfect it."

Coromoto sells about 60 flavours on any given day, but changes the flavours according to the seasons.

On one wall, a list of its specialities is made out of engraved wooden slats.

Besides the standard options like chocolate and rum-and-raisin, there are plenty of exotic fruits: guava, papaya, mango and passion fruit.

There are several vile-sounding flavours among the 860 as well: eggs, macaroni cheese and sardines-in-brandy being a few of the more bizarre examples.

And there are a lot of oddly named ones too like British Airways, Andean Kisses and I'm Sorry, Darling.

One of them, Viagra Hope, is bright blue like the pills.

I have to ask what is in it, and am relieved to hear it is all natural: honey and pollen.

"Different people like different things," said the shop's manager.

"Personally I'm a fan of the fruit flavours but many customers prefer the alcoholic choices like Cointreau, cognac or vodka-and-pineapple.

"Of course, being Venezuela, there are plenty made with rum."

In the back room

Ushered behind the front desk, I get the chance to glimpse what most visitors to Coromoto never see: the ice cream being made.

Tubs of ice cream
The house special is made with several flavours including beef and cheese

As we walk behind the scenes, I imagine scenes of an ice-cream version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, complete with a mad inventor pouring strange solutions into test tubes.

However, a bit disappointingly, I am led into an airless room where two vast ice-cream mixers are whirring away.

On one of the machines, a big tub of raisins is waiting to be added to the concoction inside.

In the other, a vanilla-coloured mixture is being turned but - as I suspected - it is not vanilla.

"Es cafe," says the girl keeping an eye on the machines - coffee flavour.

Now it is my time to try a few.

'Muy picante'

"What is the house special?" I ask Jose.

He chuckles and says "pabellon criollo" - a traditional Venezuelan meal of beef, rice, plantain, cheese and black beans, which Coromoto has replicated in ice cream.

Perhaps some things, like cheddar, should not be made into ice cream

Jose fixes me a small scoop of each flavour - and yes, they do beef-flavoured ice cream in Coromoto - topping it off with a half-scoop of chilli flavour.

"Muy picante," he warns me, but I foolishly nod... I'm sure it's not that hot... and gulp it down in one.

Once my eyes have stopped watering and I have got my breath back, I manage a smile at Jose, who is laughing and saying, "I told you so!"

Clearly Coromoto's flavours live up to their names.

To put out the fire on my tongue, I go for the plantain flavour which is incredibly realistic. As is the cheese, which I would not at all recommend.

Perhaps some things, like cheddar, should not be made into ice cream.

Finally the beef. Despite my misgivings, it is rich, sweet and meaty. I can't quite believe it, but I seem to actually like beef-flavoured ice cream.

Back on the shop floor, the customers are enjoying their choices on what is a stiflingly hot day.

"I chose a scoop of avocado and a scoop of sweetcorn," says Marjorie Castillo, who lives in Caracas.

"It's amazing. The avocado tastes just like avocado and the sweetcorn like sweetcorn."

Her 14-year-old niece, Marvery, concurs. "It's exotic, divine," she says.

"You've only got 858 flavours still to go," I tell her.

"I know," she says, giggling into her ice-cold treat. "But I'm sure I can do it. One flavour at a time!"

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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Venezuela
12 Jun 12 |  Country profiles

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