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Is the world’s best gelato flavor being made right here in the D.C. area?

Dolci Gelati's saffron pistachio with candied lemon peel gelato. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)
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Gianluigi Dellaccio wanted to compete in the Gelato World Tour.

The Italian native, who just celebrated 10 years in business at Dolci Gelati, was in the midst of finishing his application when he realized he had to tell the selection committee what flavor he wanted to make.

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On a whim, he remembered the saffron pistachio he'd recently made to present to a Persian chef as part of a catering job. He settled on that flavor, with the addition of some candied lemon peel.

Good call.

At the World Gelato Tour event that took place over Memorial Day weekend in Chicago's Millennium Park, Dellaccio took home the technical jury award. Based on scoring (65 percent public vote, 35 percent from the panel of professional judges and 5 percent from the 16 competitors themselves), Dellaccio landed in fourth place. But the judges felt so strongly about the merits of his gelato that they made sure he was passed through to the tour's finals next year in Rimini, Italy.

"I felt like I was dreaming," Dellaccio said. "I didn't even know it was real."

You can't blame him -- Dellaccio had no one helping him make the more than 300 pounds of gelato he served that weekend, which he estimated added up to 50 hours over the three days. The competition served attendees 9,000 pounds of gelato in total.

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The Chicago event, which included gelato artisans from North and South America, was a sort of play-in round for the gelato finals. At that event, Dellaccio will be competing alongside winners from other stops on the tour, including Tokyo, Germany and a to-be-determined West Coast city. The finals will be a sort of homecoming for Dellaccio, who plans to have family from both Italy and the States there to cheer him on.

But how does the gelato taste? Will Dellaccio be the key to helping America beat the Italians at their own game?

We tried the saffron pistachio with candied lemon peel gelato this week at Dolci Gelati's shop in Shaw (it will be at all three shops throughout the summer), and, in our -- okay, biased hometown -- opinion, he has an excellent chance. Other locals might agree, too, as the flavor quickly sold out its first batch, and Dellaccio had to scramble to make more.

Thanks to a 24-hour steep, the base is infused with the sweet, earthy and delicately floral scent of saffron (you can see the strands, too). Together with the toasty, nutty Sicilian pistachio paste -- at $40 a pound, it's "liquid gold," Dellaccio said -- and bright, crunchy lemon peel, it's a scoop that hits all the refreshing but indulgent notes you'd want in gelato.

Dellaccio must bide his time until the World Gelato Tour championship next fall, which means he has plenty of opportunities to tinker with his recipe. He's thought about adding some chopped pistachios to the gelato, but doubts he will alter the award-winning flavor.

"It's perfect as it is," he said.

Dolci Gelati, 1420 Eighth St. NW; 7000 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park; 107 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria.

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