Who doesn’t love a good ice-cream or to be more precise a good gelato? On my trip this year I made a concerted effort to eat the best gelato in Italy as often as possible. After all, I had to do research for this article or at least that’s what I told my husband. Somehow I don’t think that he was convinced, but he happily went along with it.
Where did gelato originate?
There is a bit of confusion about this. Some believe that it dates back to desserts made from snow and ice in ancient Egypt, Sicily and Rome. The more popular story is that Bernardo Buontalenti, who was from Florence, served his creation to Catherine de Medici in the 16th century. By the 17th century, gelato had become popular and as a result became more widespread. During the 19th century was where the real growth happened and the whole world fell in love with gelato, which actually means something frozen in Italian.
Difference between the best gelato in Italy and ice cream
Anyone who has been to Italy has undoubtedly had a gelato, but how does it differ from ice cream?
- Gelato is made with more milk and less cream than ice cream. It has much less butter fat at around 7-12%. This means that the gelato is not as solid when it freezes. The “creaminess” is a result of its density.
- It is also served slightly warmer than ice cream so the texture is soft, silky and decadent as it melts in your mouth.
- Gelato is churned less than ice cream so it has less air in it. This helps to intensify the flavour.
- Gelato also essentially falls into 2 groups either cream-based (crema) or fruit-based (sorbetto).
- Cream-based gelato is made with full cream milk, cream and sugar for the basic mix, then flavours like chocolate, caramel and coffee are added.
- Fruit-based gelato is made from fruit, water and sugar. Naturally, there are no preservatives so they need to be eaten within 48 hours at the most.
Artisanal gelato vs commercial gelato
The easiest way to decide is to look at the colour of the gelato. In a gelateria that uses fresh, natural ingredients the colours are much paler. If a pistachio gelato is lime green then there is a very good chance that artificial colour has been added.
Look at the display. This is something I always do before deciding on what to choose. If the gelato is piled high and looks sculpted then it has been whipped to add air to it. I usually walk away at that point.
Certain fruit, like bananas, are available all year round. Other fruit is seasonal. If you are eating peach gelato in the middle of winter then that should trigger alarm bells.
Artisanal gelato is made in relatively small batches and should be eaten within a couple of days of having been made.
Commercial gelato is usually sold by liquid volume and not weight so the amount of air incorporated into the product is important. An artigianale gelato may cost more, but it’s worth every cent.
Produzione Propria or Gelato Artigianale
This means that the gelato is homemade. It does not necessarily mean that is made from fresh ingredients. It can be made from a premix.
This is made from scratch, in the traditional way, with fresh ingredients
Gelato is serious business in Italy. Food is a way of life and any time is a great time to relax with a gelato. What better way than to end a meal than with a sorbetto (a fruity scoop) or with an affogato, (a coffee doused gelato)?
Now that you understand how to choose the perfect indulgent gelato I’ll share some of my favourites with you. This is naturally a totally subjective choice simply based on the fact that I enjoyed the gelato from these shops and in some cases went back a few times to try other flavours.
Remember that gelato does not have to be sweet. There are many gelaterie making savoury gelato that can be served as an appetizer or instead of cheese. There are some really interesting flavours that are worth trying if you dare!
- You can ask for a taste of the gelato before buying it.
- Italians would not normally mix fruit flavours and creamy gelato flavours together, but it you have to, as a tourist you will be forgiven.
This is probably the most famous gelateria in Sorrento. When we visited the owner was in the store and very proudly showed us a photograph of him taken with the Pope. On any given day there are more than 80 flavours to choose from.
Try : Cream of lemon, croquante, salted caramel, pistachio, cherry
Gelateria del Teatro
Their website describes the gelateria as a laboratory of taste. Thinking about it, of course, I had to agree. I simply have to visit this shop and I feel cheated if I miss an opportunity. They have a camera in the kitchen, so while you are eating your gelato you can watch how it is being made. The flavours are wonderfully creative.
Try: Sage & raspberry, Crème brûlée, Lavender & white peach, White chocolate & basil, Ricotta, fig and almond.
Gelateria Dei Neri
Thie gelateria was very conveniently located on the road (Via dei Neri) that I was staying in. It is not far from the Uffizi, so whatever you do make a detour to taste the gelato. This is undoubtedly the best gelateria in Florence. It is a family run business and they use the finest ingredients available. As a result, the flavours are innovative and moreish.
Try : Chocolate & orange, gorgonzola, fior di late, ricotta & fig, raspberry
Life is too short to eat bad gelato! Search for the best gelato in Italy when you are travelling and discover a whole new world of pleasures. I can promise you that it is worth the effort and you will remember those delicious moments long after your holiday is over.
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