“I don’t recommend the onion,” wisecracks one of the assistants at Terre Adélice, as he gestures a silver scoop across two freezers worth of multi-coloured ice cream.
That’s because at this cult ice cream shop, burrowed among the wrought-iron balconies, ornate streetlamps and medieval cobblestones of Rue Saint-Jean, the onion parfum (perfume) really does taste like onion. Its kick is as pungent and tear provoking as any soil-covered organic bulb you can pick up from the local farmers’ market.
And in a city of a thousand restaurants, of starched white tablecloths and Michelin stars, and of hot bouchon (small bistro) lunches served among cold wood-panelled walls, it is gastronomic quality that counts. That’s why Terre Adélice’s ice creams have parfums instead of flavours: they don’t just rouse the taste buds, but awaken the senses too.
A spoonful of silky lavender parfum ice cream melts in the mouth, scattering a floral breeze of Provence’s famous purple fields across the tongue, as a cluster of backpack-carting tourists line up outside the petite double arches of Terre Adélice. Many stand spellbound in the sticky September afternoon sun, hypnotised by the vast menu propped up against the wall.
They ponder the delights of dill ice cream with salmon and leeks, and dare one another to try Szechuan pepper with salad or the strawberry soup. But just why does Terre Adélice sell so many strange flavours?
The art of ice cream making
The shop’s story begins with brothers Bertrand and Xavier Rousselle selling just a few scoops of sorbet in the heart of Ardèche back in 1996. After spending a year studying the technical aspects of ice cream production, they began to create their own using artisanal processes.
This meant waiting for fruit to ripen rather than cooking it, and sourcing produce locally from Ardèche and Drôme in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Each batch of ice cream also included up to 70% of real fruit, far more than the 25% required by French lawmakers. It’s a fruit-squishing figure they continue to fulfill today.
Their reputation soon spread and their Lyon store, which opened in 2010, now stays open until 1am during the summer, transforming the ice cream outlet into something of a foodie pilgrimage site.
Melting people’s hearts
“During July and August, we serve between 5 and 7000 people a day, seven days a week,” says Guillaume Rousselle, son of founder Bertrand Rousselle and manager of Terre Adélice. “That includes ice cream converts, people that don’t generally buy it,” he adds.
A merry hubbub of smartly-dressed waitresses and smartphone flashes merge outside as hungry pilgrims enter the small shop and glance across the multi-coloured mosaic of creamy sorbets, each served in a single, white china spoon.
For those lucky enough to nab a seat, there’s a terrace outside, ring-fenced with ropes like a VIP area. It chimes with a cacophony of chatter and clinking cutlery as friends share ice cream selections and giggle over the results.
It’s a far cry from the business’ original blueprint. Initially, the objective was to offer a fine line of ice cream to boulangeries (bakeries), patisseries and stylish restaurants.
But an increase in demand from local chefs meant new parfums were soon being whisked up in the kitchen and everything from truffle and Roquefort to fennel and parsley was taste tested. The success led the Rousselle brothers to open their own store.
Now more than 100 establishments across France carry the coveted glacier brand, while 93 of Terre Adélice’s 150 flavours have been awarded an Agriculture Biologique (bio) certification.
That’s why you’ll find smoked bacon ice cream at elite Parisian restaurants, like the recently reopened Café de l’Homme, and strange, savoury flavours selling well at a number of gourmet golden boys in Lyon.
Outside in the autumnal sun, a brown-haired woman is straightening up her smartphone, attempting to capture the perfect, pre-melt photo of her chestnut ice cream. Despite the mad flavour concoctions and weirder scoops, Guillaume says that the smooth Madagascan vanilla and sweet caramel parfums remain the favourites among tourists. Still, like the assistant said, it’s best to leave the onion to the professionals.