Traveling is one of my favorite things; and while, yes, I travel for the eye-opening experiences, the memories, the incredible art & history and the all-around fun of adventure, I, most of all, travel for the food. It won’t be hard to imagine that Italy is my favorite country for all of these things, but one thing stands out amongst the others—gelato. It’s dense, it’s rich, it’s delectable and there is just something more awesome about it than your run-of-the-mill ice cream.
Gelato vs. the World
What is the difference between gelato and other cold treats, you ask?
Gelato is Italian for “ice cream”—okay, not exactly—gelato comes from the Italian word for “frozen”.
Simply put, gelato has less fat and less air than ice cream and is served at a higher temperature. It’s made from water, milk and/or soy milk, combined with flavorings, sweeteners and a stabilizing agent. The machinery whips almost no air into the product, resulting in a dense and more intensely-flavored product, AKA a more delicious ice cream!
Like ice cream in America, there is no standard for gelato in Italy; different regions produce differing kinds. In Sicily, gelato is made with milk and no egg yolks, sometimes with a thickener; in Tuscany you find gelato made with milk and egg custard, and in the North, they use cream and eggs for a richer taste. No matter where you are, there is still less air in the ice cream.
Ice cream is heavy on the cream, has a fat content of at least 10% and is mostly water. American-style ice cream is also churned fast and hard to whip in air to increase volume and give them a light, fluffy texture (that also melts super fast…ever watch a little kid eat ice cream?). Most cheaper, commercial ice creams are between 50% and 90% air.
Ice cream made richer (and arguably creamier) with the addition of egg yolks.
Soft-Serve (or Frozen Custard)
It is similar to ice cream but served at warmer temperature out of a machine that extrudes the ice cream into soft, swirled peaks. It is much lighter than ice cream, lower in milk fat and and higher in overrun—up to 60% air by volume. Since it’s a little warmer, it doesn’t numb the taste buds, so it is usually perceived as tastier.
This ice cream cousin is made of low-fat or non-fat yogurt plus sweetener, gelatin, corn syrup and flavoring. Fun fact—it freezes and melts more slowly than ice cream.
Both are water and fruit-based products, sherbet has some milk to add creaminess. Is everyone thinking of rainbow sherbet RN? Sorbet typically has no milk.
Gelaterie (Gelato shops)
Now that you know why gelato is the master of all ice cream, let’s talk about where you should go when you’re in Italy. Full disclosure, these are a mix of my personal experiences AND a lot of research.
Gelateria Alaska: Daring flavors! Ginger? Celery? Rosewater!? Gelato here is lighter, less dense, still full-flavored
Gelato Fantasy: Where all your fantasies come true—okay, that’s aggressive, but I’ve been told their raspberry swirl is truly a fantasy.
Il Massimo del Gelato: There are two, so go to the original on Via Lodovico Castelvetro. eight of their 40 flavors are dedicated to chocolate, so that’s pretty awesome.
La Gelateria della Musica: Great name and apparently great pistachio gelato.
I studied in Florence for 4 months. Sorry I couldn’t choose my favorite place, so I listed four.
Perche No: Translates to “Why Not?”…that feels right.
Gelateria de’ Neri: Get a cioccolato frappe and be sure to get a cookie straw with it.
La Carraia: Find La Carraia on the Oltrarno side, famous for their dark chocolate gelato. And if they have cinnamon, make sure you get it.
Bar Vivoli: Said to be the oldest gelateria in Florence, it was founded in 1929 as a cafe and meeting place.
Gelateria Dondoli: The Master Gelato Maker of this gelateria is Sergio Dondoli, a member of the Team and Organization of the Italian National Ice Cream Makers. NBD. Gelateria Dondoli is also the Winner of the Ice Cream World Championship in 2006/07 and 2008/09.
Gelateria Kopakabana: They have created 200+ flavors in 10 years. That’s madness.
Gelateria Old Bridge: When you’re done wandering the Vatican and the many delights in the Vatican Museum, delight your mouth when you leave with some amazing gelato from Old Bridge.
Gelateria I Caruso: These guys are known for their delicious seasonal flavors.
Come il Latte: I didn’t make it here, but when reading the description they had me at “rich and buttery.”
Buonocare Gelateria: They may have a line but it’s worth it and supposedly there are fresh waffle cones – score! If you’re having trouble finding it, just sniff for the smell of waffles.
Savia: A word from the wise—try the gianduia (chocolate hazelnut).
A few other thoughts on Gelato:
- When I eat ice cream I’m a classic flavor snob, but when it comes to gelato, the wild flavors are amazing. Try a rose or champagne flavored gelato! Cinnamon is also fantastic.
- Someone will tell you to try Grom. Yes, it’s delicious, yes, it’s super popular, but you can find this in many Italian cities and also NYC, so don’t pass up other options for this—instead try it when you’re desperate and can’t find another one. Or if you’re like me you can take yearly trips there to get your Italian gelato fix from the States.
- The waffle cones just seem to taste better there.
- My go to flavors? 3 scoops—cioccolato, limon and frutti di bosco (chocolate, lemon and berry).