Updated: Dec 31, 2019
One of highlights of any trip to Italy is also one of the simplest: gelato every day!
Why not join us on our Best of Italy tour and search for the best gelato in Rome, Sorrento, Florence and Venice and places in between? We’ll help you find some of the best gelaterie wherever we stay!
At some point in just about any day on your travels to beautiful Italy, there comes a time when a small break – and perhaps an energy boost - is needed, and there aren’t too many better ways of feeding that need than a couple of scoops of that delicious Italian ice cream. Maybe I’m dreaming, but I think it just tastes better than just about anything we can find back here in Australia.
The locals will say it’s the water and the fresh ingredients they use, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
Authentic gelato is made with lower levels of sugar and butterfat than our ice cream, with its sugar and water content carefully balanced to help prevent it from freezing hard. It’s also usually prepared in small batches with less air incorporated into the mix than in our ice cream: giving it a stronger flavour. And because they use only fresh natural ingredients, its flavour is only at its peak for a few days so it’s usually made right there on the spot.
Mind you, there are large commercial producers who make it in large factories like we do and then ship it for selling and some gelaterie (ice-cream parlours) offer this product, you do need to be a little careful about where to go for your gelato fix or you might be a bit disappointed, and it starts by looking for the word artigianale, which means ‘made by crafts men or women’ or we might say ‘artisan’ on a sign or in the window. It generally means the shop makes its own gelato but, of course, it’s no absolute guarantee so here are a few other things to look for.
1. Colour: Look at the colour of the gelato: it should look natural. If the pistachio is a bright green rather than a light lime, or if the strawberry is a rich red rather than pinkish, then the odds are they’ve been made with artificial colouring (and maybe flavouring). Where they only use natural ingredients, the colours will be more muted and natural.
2. List of ingredients: Some artigianale gelaterie post the ingredients they use. Gelato artisans take great care in choosing their ingredients and are proud to display them.
3. Display: Gelato that is heaped high in the display freezer is likely to have been whipped (in order to add more air to the product). Often artigianale gelato is slow-churned and then stored in covered, circular containers, but this is more the exception than the rule.
4. Flavours in season: Like every type of food in Italy, freshness is important; and the fruit flavours offered in a gelateria can be an indicator of whether they are using fresh, local ingredients. While some fruit, like bananas, might be available year-round, the fruit flavours should reflect what is be available at the local markets. A peach-flavoured gelato in July is fine. Peach in January: no.
5. Made on-site: You can always ask the staff if the gelato in their shop is made on-site. Often you can see the equipment in the rear of the store from the front.
These are only a guide, and you can always look online for recommendations for gelaterie, or even ask staff at your hotel or any locals you may meet as most will have a favourite. But ultimately it comes down to personal taste, so – when you’ve decided on your shop – it’s time to feed that palate!
When you are buying your gelato, you will usually have to pay first at the cassa (cashier), who will give you a scontino (receipt) to give to the servers. You can have either a cono (cone) or a coppa (cup) – or perhaps a coppetta (small cup). Gelati usually come in a range of sizes: piccolo (small), medio (medium), or grande (large). And then it’s just a matter of choosing your flavours (gusti), and here are ten of our favourites for you to try when you are next visiting the boot…. Remember that you don’t have to order just one flavour at a time!
1. Pistacchio: My personal favourite. I know people who aren’t massive fans of the nuts who love it as well. That nutty flavour and light green pistachio colour, often with the addition of real nut chunks worked in or on top.
2. Stracciatella: The Italian version of chocolate chip ice-cream but not the vanilla-with-dots-of-chocolate version you might be used to. Much lighter on the palate with chocolate chips mixed into the gelato and more chocolate drizzled all over and then mixed in after the chocolate has hardened. Delicious and crunchy.
3. Amarena: Now you might not be a big fan of cherries, but you’ve got to try this flavour. Made on a subtle sweet creamy base with slightly sour cherry sauce and cherry pieces, it’s one that’s grown on me over time.
4. Fragola: Everyone likes strawberry ice cream, but fregola gelato takes it a step higher, with a natural fresh fruit flavour that is not as sweet as we find here and the deep pink colour of crushed strawberries.
5. Coco: My wonderful wife fell in love with this one ten years ago and find it hard to order anything else. It’s coconut: white, creamy and very coconutty.
6. Limone: Usually more of a sorbet than a true gelato, its fresh, tangy lemon flavour is perfect for hot summer days (and nights). It’s light and with the perfect amount of tartness.
7. Bacio: It means ‘kiss’ and is the perfect way to describe its combination of chocolate and hazelnut. Pale brown in colour, its rich chocolate flavour is tempered by the nutty taste of hazelnut praline (Nutella! Italy is the home of Nutella!) – and in some cases – real hazelnuts.
8. Liquirizia: I get it if you think liquorice shouldn’t be a flavour of gelato but give it a try: I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s usually a lighter colour than our liquorice and the flavour isn’t over-whelming.
9. Vanilla: Okay I’m cheating a little here by offering three flavours that you should try if you are a lover of the simplest ice cream flavour. Vaniglia is the Italian word for ‘vanilla’, but in Italy it’s not all that common – probably because there are so many other kinds of vanilla-like flavours available. Two flavours you will likely find are fior di latte (literally ‘flower of milk’ with a subtle flavour more akin to sweet cream) and crema (‘cream’ but with an egg custard flavour).
10. Zuppa Inglese: I’ll throw in this one which is a little less known. The title literally means ‘English soup’ and it gets its name from an Italian dessert which is thought to be inspired by English trifle. Zuppa Inglese has a rich, custard-flavoured base with bits of sponge cake or cookies, all topped off with a sweet, scarlet liqueur such as sherry.
And these ten are just a small sample of what are available. There are new flavours being created every day and innovators experimenting with new versions of old favourites. What do that mean for you? Well, you’ll just have to keep going back and trying them all!
What’s your favourite gelato flavour? Let us know….
And why not join us on our Best of Italy tour and search for the best gelato in Rome, Sorrento, Florence and Venice and places in between? We’ll help you find some of the best gelaterie wherever we stay!