Eating Gelato in Italy
Gelato is one of our favorite subjects, and we get questions about it frequently on our Italy food tours, such as, is gelato the same thing as ice cream? Where can you find the best gelato in Italy? And what are the most important flavors to try? Because, let’s face it, most of us won’t make our way through the dozens and dozens of flavors you’ll find on an Italy food tour with The International Kichen, no matter how hard we try.
Is Gelato the same thing as ice cream?
No! Although, let’s face it, they are close cousins. Gelato is usually made with fewer ingredients, often with little or no cream and eggs, and therefore has a different consistency. It is less unctuous than ice cream (sorry ice cream, I love you too!). It’s also served at a warmer temperature, so it’s softer but still dense (unlike a soft serve ice cream). When eating gelato on our Italy food tours you’ll find that it packs more flavor into each mouthful. This is in part because it’s less cold, but mostly because of the simple way it is made, which is all about enhancing the flavor of that gelato variety.
What should I order?
My older son and I gravitate toward the chocolate and nut flavors. Chocolate, double chocolate, chocolate mousse, nutella, stracciatella, hazelnut, walnut, pistacchio, these are all favorites. My younger son is a fruit-flavor fan. Lemon sorbet is his favorite. My husband is less predictable, but banana is a common choice for him. I think he loves how the banana gelato in Italy is cream colored and not yellow (really, have you ever eaten a banana that had yellow flesh?). There are many new varieties as well with interesting additions and fillers, but we all tend toward the classic varieties that feature a single flavor when on an Italy food tour.
You order not by the scoop by by price and by the number of flavors. So a 4 Euro cone can be all one flavor (“solo cioccolato”) or multiple (“cioccolato, banana, e nocciola”). The gelato is not scooped up in hermetic little ice cream balls, but in spread on in great globs by a large spatula. I usually get “panna” (whipped cream, sometimes called panna montata) on top of mine, and sometimes even underneath, filling the cone. This is called “con panna sotto e sopra.”
Finding the Right Gelateria
How do you know you’ve found a good gelateria?
You can always ask a local, they will know where the authentic gelaterie are. If you want to avoid touristy gelaterie because you don’t want the crowds, that is fine, but don’t think because a gelateria is popular with tourists that it is a tourist “trap” – it might just be popular because it’s good!
One way to tell a gelateria is good is if you see them making the gelato on site. Is someone cutting up pear and pineapple in the back? Roasting hazelnuts or juicing lemons? All of these are signs of in-house production using real ingredients. Remember, gelato should never be fancy. A sorbet should include fruit, water, and sugar. A gelato should include milk and/or cream, sugar, and whatever flavors it. Sometimes it can include egg for certain custard-based gelati. But that’s it.
Have you had gelato on an Italy food tour? Do you prefer gelato or ice cream? What are your favorite flavors?
By Peg Kern
Sign up to receive our newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best cooking vacations and food and wine tours.